Fiji police accused Australia and New Zealand of being link to assasination plot
At a press conference in Suva this afternoon, Fiji's Police Commissioner announced that authorities had uncovered a conspiracy to assassinate the interim Prime Minister.
Neighbouring countries, including Australia and New Zealand, were accused of being linked to the plot, but both have angrily rejected the claims as absurd.
No real detail has been given about the alleged plot that reportedly targets members of the Fiji Cabinet and senior military officers, but three of those arrested were charged earlier today with treason, inciting mutiny and conspiracy to murder.
Police say more arrests are likely and the army has been called in to help in the investigation.
Fiji Broadcasting Corporation senior journalist Ofa Kaukimoce has been covering the story.
"We've had quite a number of speculations that arms had been brought into the country and that some individuals are being called up to camp to answer questions about that alleged container of arms, but when we asked the military about it, they say it's not true," she said.
"But then everything died down, just as soon as we thought there was nothing really, when this came to the fore."
Among those arrested is New Zealand businessman, Ballu Khan. He is based in Suva and reportedly has close ties to Fiji's SDL Party and ousted prime minister Laisenia Qarase.
Mr Khan was allegedly beaten during his arrest and remains in hospital under police guard.
Speaking on New Zealand radio today, Prime Minister Helen Clark condemned Fiji's treatment of Mr Khan.
"I'm absolutely appalled at what happened to that New Zealand citizen and of course, the New Zealand High Commission was prevented from seeing him on the Saturday and he was prevented from getting proper hospital care while they kept him in detention," she said.
"When our High Commission staff did get to see him yesterday, he had difficulty talking because his face was so beaten up.
"He'd been surrounded by guards at the hospital at night - including one who had been part of the assault on him. It's absolutely terrifying, no person should be treated like this."
Ms Clark says it appears the interim Prime Minister and his military-backed regime have ignored the views expressed by fiji's neighbours at the recent Pacific Island Leaders Forum in Tonga.
"What he seems to be doing is finding any excuse to go and round up people who've long been opposed to him," she said.
"Whether this is because he's in a corner, following the pacific island forum meeting, when he got no support... so the clear message was go home and get your government working with the Pacific Island Forum and the EU [European Union] and others to get your country on the road back to democracy."
Police claim intelligence reports show the alleged plot was bankrolled by non-government agencies funded by neighbouring nations, including Australia and New Zealand.
The allegation has been strongly rejected by Ms Clark.
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer also rejects the claims, saying suggestions that Australia may be involved in a conspiracy are absurd.
"It is completely false to suggest that the Australian Government would consider assassinating Commodore Bainimarama or coup leaders in Fiji or that we would in any way wish to see any death occur in Fiji by force of arms, in any circumstances," he said.
"It doesn't do any credit to Commodore Bainimarama's regime to be suggesting that countries like Australia and New Zealand want to go around assassinating them, it's a completely absurd proposition."
John Fraenkel has just returned from Fiji after living there for more than a decade and is now a lecturer in Pacific Studies at the Australian National University.
He is suspicious about the allegations of an assassination plot.
"All of these people who are arrested are the usual suspects, the kind of people one would expect to round up, the kind of people that the military would have been watching like hawks in recent months," he said.