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It's war

Reports by MARY RAUTO
Wednesday, December 24, 2008

THE diplomatic row between Fiji and New Zealand exploded into a tit-for-tat war yesterday when the interim Government expelled NZ's acting high commissioner and Wellington retaliated by doing the same to Fiji's high commissioner there.

Both Caroline McDonald, the acting High Commissioner for New Zealand in Fiji, and Ponsami Chetty, Fiji's High Commissioner to New Zealand, have been declared persona non-grata and given seven days to leave their respective countries and return home.

Like the case with Michael Green, the interim Government gave no reason for the expulsion, especially when the decision came a day after interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum called for reconciliation and better dialogue with Fiji's neighbours — Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum denied that the expulsion had anything to do with the travel ban imposed on members of the interim Government, the military and their family members.

In the last few weeks, the interim Government has attacked New Zealand for refusing to allow three people –– the children of military officers and interim Government appointees –– to enter the country on sports and study leave.

One of the victims was George Nacewa, son of Rupeni Nacewa, the secretary to the President.

Yesterday, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said Mrs McDonald had been declared persona non-grata in accordance with the provisions within the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961.

She has been given seven days to leave the country.

In June last year. Mrs McDonald's predecessor, Michael Green, was also expelled under hazy circumstances.

He too was given seven days to leave the country.

"This decision was reached as a direct result of Mrs McDonald's actions over the past year that have been contrary to the accepted international norms of diplomatic behaviour," Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.

"Government deeply regrets this action, but in the circumstances it has had little choice."

Mrs McDonald was handed her letter shortly after 4pm yesterday.

It is understood the letter was signed by Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Ratu Isoa Gavidi.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said Australian High Commissioner James Batley was "also very disengaging with the Fiji Government and that has been noted also".

This year, the interim Government also expelled two foreign publishers –– Russell Hunter, publisher of the Fiji Sun, and Evan Hannah, publisher of this newspaper.

Yesterday, in retaliation, NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully issued Fiji's High Commissioner in Wellington, Ponsami Chetty, with the same ultimatum.

"I have instructed officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to call in the Acting High Commissioner from Fiji," he said in a statement.

"He will be advised that he has been declared persona non-grata and given one week to leave this country."

Mr McCully said the New Zealand Government was disappointed but not surprised by the interim Government's decision.

Mr McCully said that since the new government took office in New Zealand, they had tried to work constructively to resolve issues of contention between the countries.

"That has been made difficult by the fact that Commodore Bainimarama has employed ultimatums and threats to advance his case," he said.

"This government has no intention of making concessions with a gun pointed at our heads."

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