Anger over perceived delays in the processing of a medical visa for the sick child of a Fijian judge prompted the expulsion from Suva of acting New Zealand deputy High Commissioner Todd Cleaver.
“The New Zealand government will now consider the appropriate steps to take in response to today’s expulsion, and also assess the impact of this action on the already depleted resources in our Suva High Commission.”
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key said he was in a state dinner with Prince Edward this evening, and was not sure if he had been briefed on the expulsion.
Wellington – Fiji’s military ruler, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, ordered senior diplomats from New Zealand and Australia out of the country Tuesday, accusing them of waging a negative campaign against his government, which seized power in a bloodless coup nearly three years ago. Bainimarama, who said his Pacific island neighbours were “engaged in a dishonest and untruthful strategy to undermine our judiciary, our independent institutions and our economy,” also ordered his country’s high commissioner in Canberra home.
In a televised address, Bainimarama said the senior diplomats of New Zealand and Australia were “refusing to engage with government and engaging only with those Fijians who have a political interest in holding Fiji back.”
Bainimarama said a judge on Fiji’s High Court, Anjala Wati, had been “harassed and humiliated by the New Zealand High Commission in Fiji when she applied for a visa on medical grounds to take her baby son to New Zealand.”
But the New Zealand High Commission in Suva issued its own statement, saying an application for a visa on medical grounds by Wati was not rejected.
FIJI’S strongman, Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama, has expelled Australian high commissioner James Batley and his New Zealand counterpart in the latest diplomatic standoff.
Commodore Bainimarama said Mr Batley and New Zealand’s envoy Todd Cleaver would be given 24 hours to leave the country and that he would recall Fiji’s top diplomats in Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Batley is understood to be outside the country and is not expected to return to Suva, as planned, later this week.
Commodore Bainimarama said the expulsion order was the result of recent decisions taken by the Australian and New Zealand governments concerning Fiji, which he believed amounted to interference in the country’s internal affairs.
He said yesterday that Australia and New Zealand had engaged in dishonest and untruthful strategies to undermine Fiji’s judiciary and weaken the economy.
The expulsions come soon after Fiji Chief Justice Anthony Gates, who holds dual Australian and British citizenship, complained bitterly about separate incidents involving travel bans on Fiji’s judges.
When outlining the two incidents on Sunday, Justice Gates accused Australia of interfering in the judiciary of a Commonwealth country because Australian consular officials had counselled the Sri Lankans against working in Fiji.
Australian officials had earlier made a low-key approach to Sri Lanka’s judicial authorities informing them that the integrity and independence of the Fiji bench was in doubt.
Justice Gates accused New Zealand of “begrudgingly” granting a visa to the daughter of a Fiji judge who was suffering “full retinal detachment”.