Mutinies of the 2000 Fijian coup d'état

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Two military mutinies took place in connection with the civilian coup d'état that rocked Fiji in 2000, the first while the rebellion instigated by George Speight was in progress, and the second four months after it had ended.

The Sukunaivalu Barracks mutiny (7 July 2000)

On 7 July 2000, rebel soldiers supporting George Speight overran the Sukunaivalu Barracks in Labasa, the largest town on the northern island of Vanua Levu. Besides seizing the barracks, these soldiers harassed ordinary Indo-Fijian citizens of Labasa, kidnapping bus commuters, ransacking homes, and seizing crops. Indo-Fijian women were also raped.

Deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, an Indo-Fijian, condemned a number of businessmen, also Indo-Fijians, as "traitors to their people" for having financed and fed the mutineers in a rebellion ostensibly aimed at promoting nationalistic indigenous Fijian political interests. Chaudhry has made these allegations in court papers, as well as on his party's website.

The Queen Elizabeth Barracks mutiny (2 November 2000)

The second mutiny, which took place on 2 November 2000 at Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks, was led by Captain Shane Stevens. It left four dead. In the aftermath of the failed attempt to depose the Military Commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, four of the rebels were beaten to death by loyal soldiers. A total of 42 soldiers from the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit were subsequently convicted of involvement in the mutiny.

Rabuka accused

Accusations were levelled against former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, who had himself instigated two military coups in 1987. In an interview with the Fiji Times on 12 November 2000, Commodore Bainimarama charged that while the revolt was in progress, Rabuka had visited the barracks with his army uniform in the car, ready to take over command of the army. He also allegedly started issuing orders to soldiers, telling them to obey his orders. "Rabuka's words to one of my colonels at the height of the shootings raised my suspicions," Bainimarama said. "He said the Colonel should listen to his instructions. He also criticised my leadership." Bainimarama accused Rabuka of leading soldiers astray by using "confusing" and "deceiving" words.

Bainimarama also accused Rabuka of having "politicised" the Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) unit, which he had founded as a bodyguard in 1987, to favour both the mutiny and the earlier takeover of parliament in May. Members of the CRW were involved in both the May coup and the November mutiny.

Bainimarama's version was supported by Lieutenant Colonel Viliame Seruvakula, who led the counteroffensive to put down the mutiny. On 13 November 2000, he said that rebels interrogated by the military had implicated Rabuka. He accused Rabuka of trying to take civilians into the barracks to act as human shields for the mutineers, and stated that Rabuka's intention was to "claim military leadership and ultimately overthrow the Government of the day."

Rabuka, a retired officer, denied supporting the mutiny, but refused to comment on an accusation from Bainimarama that he had called a meeting of senior officers loyal to him to depose Bainimarama. Despite his continued protests of innocence, the allegations continued to dog Rabuka, and thwarted his intended appointment as Fiji's Ambassador to the United States. On 14 May 2005, Commissioner of Police Andrew Hughes said the police were close to making a decision on whether to formally charge a number of unnamed individuals, one of whom the New Zealand Herald believed to be Rabuka.

Tarakinikini investigated

On 5 November 2000, Foreign Minister Phil Goff of New Zealand publicly accused Lieutenant Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini, who had served as the Military's principal spokesman during the main events of the coup, of complicity in the mutiny of 2 November. According to Goff, the rebels' plan was to depose Commodore Bainimarama in favour of Tarakinikini. The next day, Tarakinikini angrily denied the charges, and said that in the light of the Military's decision to investigate, he was reconsidering his career with the Army.

Shortly after the allegation were made, Tarakinikini left Fiji for New York to take up a post as a security adviser at the United Nations. His resignation from the Army, handed to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo in 2002, was rejected by the President at the request of Commodore Bainimarama, who has continued in his efforts to have Tarakinikini deported to face a court martial for his alleged role in the mutiny and in the coup itself.

Tarakinikini is fighting the President's refusal of his resignation in the courts. The trial was supposed to begin on 12 September, but was postponed because Tarakinikini's lawyer, Samuela Matawalu, was recovering from a minor stroke. On 30 November, High Court Justice Gerald Winter scheduled a hearing for 22 February 2006 and ordered Matawalu to file submissions by 16 January, and the President's Office to reply by 17 February.

Takiveikata convicted

Stevens later testified that Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, the Qaranivalu, a senior chief of Naitasiri Province and a Senator and former Cabinet Minister, had visited the barracks during the mutiny to offer moral and practical support, which included supplying the mutineers with cellphones. On 23 November, Takiveikata was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the mutiny.

Court Martial

On 16 August 2005, the Fiji Court of Appeal delivered a landmark ruling, ordering a retrial of 20 soldiers from the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit (CRW) who had been convicted in a court martial of participating in the 2000 coup and in a subsequent mutiny in November 2000, and sentenced to prison terms of between three and six years. Various legal technicalities have resulted in several adjournments in the court martial retrial since the naming of the court martial panel, under Judge Advocate Graeme Leung, on 5 October.

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