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Fiji Time: 6:49 AM on Friday 18 April

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Aussie Navy vessels ready for Fiji evacuation

1845 FJT
Friday, November 24, 2006

Update: 6.45PM Australia has stationed three Navy vessels in the Southwest Pacific ready to take evacuees in the event of a violent coup in Fiji.

This was confirmed in Melbourne, Australia, just a few hours ago by the country's Defence Minister, Dr Brendan Nelson.

Dr Nelson said that naval vessels were "ready to evacuate Australians who might become caught up in a coup in Fiji".

The ships are the training and helicopter support ship HMAS Kanimbla and the frigate HMAS Newscastle and replenishment ship HMAS Success.

HMAS Kanimbla has a number of soldiers, an evacuation team, a primary health care medical team and helicopters on board, Dr Nelson said.

Fiji's acting army commander Captain Esala Teleni declined to comment when contacted by The Fiji Times.

"We are not going to comment or issue a press release," was all he said when contacted tonight.

"Those ships are available in case there is a coup and Australians need to be evacuated in perhaps a hostile environment," Dr Nelson told reporters after a Melbourne business lunch.

"Under no circumstances do we encourage or support a coup, but we want to make darn sure that we are ready to support Aussies if they need it in Fiji, to get out of Fiji, just in case the coup is anything other than peaceful."

He said the Australian embassy in Fiji was in regular contact with Fijian military command to keep track of developments.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said there was clear evidence that Fiji army commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama was planning a coup in the next two weeks.

The comments drew fire from Australian Labor Party senior MP Bob Sercombe, who said it could inflame tensions in Fiji.