Eye witness

May 12, 2000

Kamisese Mara, Fiji's president, has sought an injunction to stop the sale of a biography of Major General Sitiveni Rabuka, leader of the 1987 military coups.

In Rabuka of Fiji, Rabuka, a former prime minister, claims that Mara knew in advance about the coup and gave the plotters his blessing. But a high court writ states that Rabuka acted on his own and describes claims that Mara was involved as false and malicious.

The writ cites Rabuka, his biographer, John Sharpham, and publishers Central Queensland University Press. CQUP manager David Myers said that the book had proved extremely popular in Fiji. Professor Sharpham said he tried several times unsuccessfully to arrange an interview with Mara.

Professor Sharpham said: "As Mara is now an old man in his 80s, his comments and views would have been invaluable in the story of modern Fiji."

Mara was prime minister when Fiji became independent in 1970 and served until 1987, when he was defeated by Timoci Bavadra. Rabuka, then Fiji's third highest-ranking army officer, led a coup on May 14, and some months later led a second against the provisional government of governor general, Sir Penia Ganilau. Few Fijians believe that Rabuka, a commoner, would have acted without the tacit approval of somebody of high rank. Fiji historian Brij Lal, of the Australian National University, said: "Everyone in Fiji holds the view that a person of Mara's experience and contacts must have known what was afoot, even if he was not personally involved."

However, Dr Lal said that Rabuka's revelations would have a lasting impact on the political landscape of Fiji.

"Personal relationships might be strained, some bad blood created, but who did or did not do the coups is now for most people a matter of historical interest. The truths about the past will never be known. We will have to live with individual, interested approximations."

Rabuka lost office last year. He has recently denied reports that he visited the Fiji Military Forces camp after the elections to seek support for a third coup.

Philip Cass.

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