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Q+A: Tevita Mara interview transcript

Published: 11:21AM Sunday June 12, 2011 Source: Q+A

GUYON ESPINER
Well, Colonel Mara, thank you for joining us on the programme. We appreciate your time. Can I start by asking you why it is you want to come to NZ.

LT COL TEVITA MARA, Fijian Fugitive
Well, that's the same reason I'm in Australia at the moment -meeting pro-democracy movement people and just consolidating the campaign towards restoring democratic governance back to Fiji.

GUYON So are you only, um, planning a short visit for those purposes, or do you ultimately want to seek political asylum and even live more permanently in NZ?

TEVITA No, it's just to meet the particular groups that are in Australia, throughout Australia and also NZ, and then I carry on to the region, travelling across the region as well.

GUYON So when do you plan - should the government allow you to come in - when do you plan to actually come to NZ?

TEVITA As soon as the visa is issued.

GUYON Ok. And the purpose of your visit here-during your visit to NZ should you be accepted, do you plan to meet with government ministers, with the Foreign Minister, say?

TEVITA Uh, if the opportunity arises, you know, I'll certainly take it up.

GUYON Ok. And I understand you have information you want to share with the NZ government.

TEVITA They need to know the reality of the situation on the ground in Fiji. I think they're getting information, you know, that's not quite clear to them of what is happening on the ground.

GUYON And what is happening on the ground?

TEVITA Well, you know, there are continued human rights abuses going on. The oppression of people continues through the media decrees and the personal emergency regulations that they have in place. I'm sure those sorts of things are not only what governments will be interested in, but organisations as well.

GUYON You said on one of your YouTube clips that you've used to promote your cause that, um, people are putting faith in you to put an end to this military junta. 'I will not let you down,' you say. How will you actually overthrow this regime?

TEVITA Uh, you know, the campaign is just for people. My campaign at the moment is just to focus on getting more awareness out, and hopefully through that awareness, the pressure will build up, you know, whatever pressure there is through the government, or just through economic pressure on the government in Fiji or the current regime in Fiji that will cause it to fall.

GUYON And what is your sense about the impact of this campaign in Fiji? I mean, is it working?

TEVITA Uh, it is having an obvious impact. More people are being aware of actually the reality of what is happening in Fiji. The Fijian people themselves, you know, they have such draconian media censorship in place that the Fijian people themselves don't really know what's happening in the country.

GUYON And is it fair to say, Colonel Mara, that a big part of your target is  the military in Fiji and trying to get people in the military to do what you've done and to leave the military and to desert the regime?

TEVITA Uh, yes, I totally agree with what you've said. As I've said, I don't believe Bainimarama has the full support of the military, and as each day goes on, whatever support he has, you know, it's slipping away from him. He knows that, and, you know, it's something that's worrying him each day.

GUYON What is your ultimate aim? I mean, do you aim to one day become the leader of Fiji? Are you trying to instigate another military coup?

TEVITA Uh, no. I think we've had enough coups for the past 20 years. This is the fourth coup we've had.

GUYON Can I get it, though, from you on the record, you see yourself as having no place in politics in a leadership role in any future government for Fiji?

TEVITA That is correct. I have said that, and I stand by those words.

GUYON Can I ask you who's behind this campaign? Because you're in Australia now, you plan to come to NZ. You've talked about going on to New York. This can't be cheap. Who's behind this crusade? Who's paying for this?

TEVITA Uh, currently, at the moment, I'm paying out of whatever money I have. You know, there's support in Australia from various back-to-democracy movement people, and they're paying for that, and people in NZ, they've actually contacted me, and they've said they'll provide finance if I do decide to come across to NZ. So there is widespread support out there.

GUYON Ok. Some are sceptical of your newfound belief in democracy. They say that you have just taken up this cause now, really, to save your own skin because you were being charged with sedition by the regime. I mean, I guess they're asking why didn't you move earlier when there were human rights abuses and some of those atrocities you've talked about, but you were a big part of that, weren't you?

TEVITA Yes, you're correct in that. I've mentioned that as well in my previous interviews. I was part of the military that took part in the 2006 coup. We fell out with Bainimarama around 2007, 2008, because we knew he was not following the path that we had all decided on when he took over government.

GUYON The military government of which you were a big part of is accused of beatings, of torture, of human rights abuses. What was your involvement, if any, in that sort of practice?

TEVITA No, I've categorically denied that I took part in any actual physical abuse of people, and I stand by those words.

GUYON But you saw it? You witnessed it?

TEVITA Yes, I did, in particular the& the participation of the commander himself.

GUYON I want to talk about that incident. Three pro-democracy women, you say, were beaten by Bainimarama. You saw that happen.

TEVITA Yes, I did.

GUYON And why didn't you stop it?

TEVITA Uh, in that situation, in the heat of the moment, you know, with  people out there, soldiers out there, and the commander doing it himself, you know, you think of your own safety first. Uh,& how do you stop it when you see the commander himself carrying out those things?

GUYON Would you accept, Colonel, that men, soldiers, in your command, beat and tortured people?

TEVITA Soldiers under my command?

GUYON Yes.

TEVITA Yes. Uh,& there were soldiers who actually did it, groups of soldiers who did it. The whole army did not take part in this. There were groups of soldiers who were personally being directed by the commander himself.

GUYON So what responsibility do you take for the fact that men in your command committed what are crimes?

TEVITA As I've mentioned, we're all answerable. At the end of all this, I'm sure there will be proper investigations into it, and whoever's directly or indirectly responsible, you know, will have to face up to it.

GUYON So would that mean you being prepared to stand trial in Fiji for those incidents?

TEVITA I've already mentioned that. The whole army should be prepared, first of all, to answer to the people of Fiji for their actions in 2006, in particular senior officers.

GUYON Ok. I want to finish this interview with what you see as how NZ and Australia's approach to Fiji is working. You seem to believe that the two countries should be doing much more to try to depose the regime. What do you think NZ and Australia should be doing?

TEVITA The current sanctions in place, they are working to an extent. I'm sure NZ and Australia are analysing that, and I'm sure they have other plans in place. I can't really talk on their behalf, but the current sanctions are working, and if their intention is to get Fiji back to democratic elections as soon as possible, then they'll have to relook at their plans again.

GUYON Do you think it's a matter of staying the course, then? More of the same for NZ and Australia?

TEVITA Well, obviously, this has worked to a certain degree on the current regime in Fiji. But the ultimate aim is to get Fiji back to democratic elections as soon as possible, so maybe the onus is on NZ and Australia now to revise those plans.

GUYON And obviously there's significant tension between Fiji and Tonga now. What impact do you think that your living in Tonga is going to have on that relationship? Do you fear that there could be significant tension between the two countries?

TEVITA It shouldn't have an impact on the current tension between Tonga and Fiji. Actually, there is no tension between Tonga and Fiji. It's just the commander himself try to make an issue out of it, to bring more attention on my situation. And I thank him for that because now the whole region knows about my situation and the plight of the people back home. The issue of Minerva Reef is already on the table with the United Nations with the relevant authorities there in the United Nations. There are diplomatic ways to deal with it. As I've said, Bainimarama himself is trying to link it up with my situation.

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