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UK allows Fiji soldier to stay

Avinesh Gopal
Saturday, November 24, 2012

FIJI-born soldier Isimeli "Bale" Baleiwai's conviction for assaulting a British Army colleague has been overturned.

It means that the soldier can now continue to live in Britain with his English wife and two children.

Veterans Aid chief executive officer Dr Hugh Milroy, who fought Lance Corporal Baleiwai's case, was overwhelmed with the decision.

Dr Milroy confirmed to The Fiji Times that the soldier could now stay in Britain with his family.

"Full praise to Fiji's High Commissioner here, Ratu Solo Mara. He supported me all the way," he said. "I've probably done more for Fiji than the rest put together."

Veterans Aid is a charitable organisation that assists soldiers from Commonwealth countries who have problems while in the British Army.

Lance Corporal Baleiwai served in the British Army for 13 years but disciplinary action for a 2010 fight with a colleague subsequently led to an order to leave Britain by August 9.

He was refused citizenship by the United Kingdom Border Agency because he had what it classed as a criminal conviction.

In July, he was given leave by the Colchester Court Martial Centre to appeal against his conviction out of time. After months of waiting anxiously, Lance Corporal Baleiwai was told earlier this week that his conviction had been overturned.

In an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News in Britain on Wednesday, he talked about the moment he heard that he would be allowed to stay.

"I had a mixture of feelings. I was pleased to know that I was found not guilty and I was frustrated as well about what this has put my family through over the past five months," he told the news channel.

"Initially I felt betrayed because of what I've given to serve Queen and country.

"Now I have faith that this value that we went out to other countries to protect and portray to other countries that this is a British value, we value fairness.

"Yesterday showed me that yes there is fairness in this country and that's why I believe I was found not guilty because of the merits of my case," Lance Corporal Baleiwai told Channel 4 News.

His wife Kim told the news channel that her husband was made out to be a criminal without a fair trial, jury or legal representation.

"I don't think that should happen in Britain at all. I feel sad that we've had to fight so hard to prove them that process was not fair," she said.

"If Bale's been found not guilty, I imagine there's a lot of other soldiers that have been through that process that would also be found not guilty if they were given a fair trial," Mrs Baleiwai told Channel 4.

Lance Corporal Baleiwai told the news channel that the only way now was up.

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