Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor | July 27, 2009
Article from: The Australian
FIJI'S strongman Frank Bainimarama is looming as the spectre who may seize, even in his absence, centre stage at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders' summit Kevin Rudd is hosting in Cairns next month.
This prospect -- which the military commander and Fijian leader is strongly fostering -- risks hijacking the most important international meeting Mr Rudd has hosted as Prime Minister.
Mr Bainimarama intensified his defiance of Mr Rudd in an interview with SBS TV, broadcast last night on Dateline.
"If I have to fight anyone, I will fight anyone," Mr Bainimarama said.
"The situation in Fiji is such that a radical change needs to be brought in, and radical change cannot be brought in by some weak organisation.
"It has to be a strong entity, and there's no other strong entity than the military."
Two weeks ago, Mr Bainimarama held secret talks in Suva with the deposed leader of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, who is thought to have offered to invest $300 million in return for safety from extradition.
Then Mr Bainimarama, buoyed by this prospect, flew to Vanuatu for a meeting of leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group -- Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, as well as Fiji -- and persuaded them to support the lifting of Fiji's suspension from the forum.
It remains unclear how forcefully the MSG leaders -- led by PNG's Prime Minister Michael Somare -- will press the forum, which makes decisions by consensus, to retract its suspension of Fiji without any concessions from Mr Bainimarama.
The leaders of the 15 Pacific nations besides Fiji met in Port Moresby in January, and decided then to suspend Fiji if it failed to announce by May 1 a timetable for elections this year.
Instead, the Fiji government installed by the military in December 2006 abrogated the constitution, sacked judges and said no election would be held until 2014. The forum then suspended Fiji.
Mr Bainimarama told SBS: "I am not going to give in to have an election. We are not going to have an election just to please Australia and New Zealand ...
"The international community think we are a failed state, that we are a failed African state, that you see me driving around in a tank.
"Everything is working well. There is a government in being. It's not a failed state."
He was especially scathing about the European Union, which axed $43m in support for Fiji's sugar industry for this year. It did so, it said, "in the absence of any indications that a legitimate government will be in place in 2009".
Mr Bainimarama said: "People think all you have to do is give them $50m and they have an election. Three years down the line, they have another coup. That's OK. We have lots of money. That's what we don't want here."
The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting will be held in Cairns from August 4 to 7.