The United States has urged Fiji's military-backed government to keep its promise to hold elections next year to return the South Pacific nation to democracy, but warned that it sees little progress toward that goal.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific Glyn Davies told reporters late Wednesday in Fiji's capital, Suva, that Washington insists Fiji holds elections and returns to democratically elected government.
"The United States of America is willing to help Fiji, but how can we help if we haven't seen any steps taken by the government to progress the country" toward elections, Davies said.
"There is no progress since I visited last year," he said after meeting with the head of the military-led Fiji government, armed forces chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama, and other senior officials, including the finance and foreign ministers.
Davies also met Laisenia Qarase, the elected prime minister Bainimarama ousted in his December 2006 coup.
Bainimarama has pledged to South Pacific and European leaders that democratic elections will be held no later than March 2009. But critics, including South Pacific regional powers Australia and New Zealand, have expressed doubts that Bainimarama's promise is genuine.
Washington suspended military assistance to Fiji's armed forces after the coup, and the measure will remain until a democratically elected government is chosen, Davies said.
"What's important is getting back a government people can have faith in, where they can have a say, be informed," he said.
Davies also criticized the deportation this week of the Fiji Sun newspaper's Australian managing director, Russell Hunter _ a move that Australia and New Zealand condemned as intimidation and curtailing press freedom.
"The issue of press freedom is important and to see what is currently happening was frightening," Davies said.
"This is not a positive step taken by the government to move the country forward," he said of Hunter's expulsion.