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May 24, 2000
India launches diplomatic offensive over Fiji
The Indian government Tuesday launched a diplomatic offensive to help end the coup in Fiji and secure the release of captive prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry, an ethnic Indian.
Indian relatives of Chaudhry met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and urged him to intervene and end the crisis in the South Pacific nation.
After the meeting, the ministry of external affairs, in a statement, said Vajpayee assured the relatives of India's efforts.
"The prime minister directed Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh to take up the matter urgently with the Commonwealth Secretary General (Don McKinnon) and the British government."
McKinnon headed for Fiji on Tuesday to press for a speedy return to constitutional rule.
Chaudhry, the first ethnic Indian prime minister in Fiji, has been held hostage with his cabinet in parliament since May 19, when gunmen stormed the building in the name of indigenous Fijians.
"Concerted international pressure is necessary in order to restore the legitimate government in Fiji. India is ready to play its part," the MEA statement said.
"The prime minister also conveyed his deep disquiet regarding the recent developments in Fiji. He reiterated his view that any move to oust a legitimately elected government in Fiji would be unacceptable to India."
Vajpayee said, "India condemned the undemocratic and criminal nature of the events that have occurred in Fiji."
"He expressed surprise that the coup leaders appear to enjoy police protection and freedom of action in Suva," it said.
The coup is being led by a soldiers from the special forces unit, led by retired Colonel Ilisoni Ligairi and accompanied by George Speight, the Fijian businessman who holds Australian citizenship.
Mahendra Chaudhry's relatives marched to Vajpayee's home earlier on Tuesday and urged him to take a lead in an international initiative to end the coup.
Chaudhry's niece, Mukta Chaudhry, said Vajpayee assured her and other relatives that "appropriate steps would soon be taken at the diplomatic level as also through other necessary means to end the crisis in Fiji."
Mukta also called on India to open a military option but under the aegis of the United Nations to try and free her uncle.
"India should ask for a UN force to restore democracy in Fiji and free all the hostages, including the prime minister. We urged Vajpayee to take up the matter with all friendly countries. His response was positive."
"In our memorandum to Vajpayee we highlighted that over 44 per cent of the Fijian population is of Indian origin. Hence, India's concern and responsibility increases manifold," she added.
Coup leader Speight has said he wants to return the country, where some 44 per cent of people are of Indian origin, to the control of indigenous Fijians.
Ethnic tensions are a recurring problem in the Pacific state, where many indigenous Fijians look with envy on the commercial and political success of ethnic Indians.
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