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U.S. steps up pressure on Fiji military to restore democratic rule

U.S. steps up pressure on Fiji military to restore democratic rule

The United States stepped up pressure on Fiji's military government Wednesday, calling for a rapid return to democracy in return for an easing of U.S. restrictions on military links.
The U.S. cut military training funding to Fiji in the wake of the Dec. 5 coup, and won't support Fiji troops taking part in any new U.N. peacekeeping operations, said Glyn Davies, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
However, Fiji military's presence in U.N. missions in Sudan, Iraq and the Sinai would remain, he told reporters in a video link to the Fiji capital, Suva.
"From the standpoint of the United Nations, it is difficult to retool and define new militaries to do that," he said, in a reference to Fiji's 25-year role in peacekeeping operations in Sinai.
"Similarly in ... Iraq, it is a tough environment. It is already a done deal with Fiji," he said.
Fiji has some 300 troops guarding the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
Davies called on the Fiji military to put an end to human rights abuses in the South Pacific nation _ a day after police began investigating claims a 19-year-old man had died over the weekend after being beaten by Fiji troops.
"It is unfortunate that the hard-won RFMF (Royal Fiji Military Forces) reputation for protecting international human rights abroad has been tarnished by serious abuses of those same human rights at home," he said.
The U.S. is willing to review some policy restrictions "if the Fiji military and interim government take rapid and decisive steps to return Fiji to democratic rule," Davies said.
"The key is that the military and the interim government must take those first steps," he added.
Earlier this month Bainimarama said Fiji would not be ready for a general election until 2010.
The U.S. pressure follows calls by Australia and New Zealand for military commander and self-appointed interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to rapidly restore democracy after he seized power in a Dec. 5 coup.
Pacific Islands Forum foreign ministers are due to meet in Vanuatu next month where a regional consensus will be sought on pressuring Fiji to restore democracy.
"I want to stress U.S. support for the ongoing Pacific Islands Forum process," Davis said.