Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fiji's Failed Military Mutiny: The day Frank Bainimarama was supposed to die - a dark history of modern Fiji

A Dark History of Modern Fiji:When the failed military mutiny changed Fiji’s fate

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Like my last article on burning of Suva, this is also a reprinted version of a dark history of modern Fiji -the day Bainimarama was planned to be assasinated

Second November 2000 was the day when Frank Bainimarama was supposed to have died, and Fiji taken over by ethno-nationalists through a military mutiny instigated by some Chiefs and greedy individuals. Thank God it did not eventuate.

Can you for a moment imagine what Fiji would be like now, 16 years on, had the devils, supported by some chiefs, succeeded in assassinating Frank Bainimarama on that fateful day? What would have been the fate of Indo-Fijians? Another Girmit or slavery, or massacre, something like Luanda or Syria?

Thank God for the 2 November, 2000, which gave back a stronger Bainimarama and a new pleasant history to Fiji. We are so thankful to the failed mutiny on this fateful day when victory, light and life respectively defeated loss, darkness and death.

Indeed, 2nd of November should be declared local Diwali for Fiji – when life won over death, and that dash through a cassava patch saved the life of an army commander who changed the fate of Fiji.

The mirage of people on different sides, but they were the birds of same feather: Tarakinikini and Speight. Tarakinikini was also implicated in the mutiny and was saved because he had absconded to USA and was not extradited to stand trial. Speight is serving his time in jail. Fiji is so thankful for the failed coup and the failed mutiny.

Thursday 2 November sixteen years ago in 2000 started as an uneventful day, a normal clear day in Suva, nothing untoward. I was at Vatuwaqa Cemetery at around 1pm to attend a friend’s funeral from Carpenter Shipping. I had planned to travel to Ba later that afternoon to attend the funeral my cousin, Jai Karan Singh (Prem) who has suddenly passed away the previous morning at Rarawai.

As we were completing viewing, after 1pm, we heard what sounded like cracking of gunfire. It was echoing from Nabua Military barracks which is some 2-3km away from Vatuwaqa cemetery. We immediately sensed something was wrong, and news filtered through that something unpleasant was happening at RFMF Barracks. After the funeral, I quickly rushed home in Raiwai, and shot –off to Ba via Queens Road with my family to attend the funeral. Later we heard in the news that there was mayhem at Nabua Barracks where attempts were made to assassinate Commodore Frank Bainimarama. He was able to escape with help of some soldiers through cassava fields.

This was the second mutiny at a military camp. On 7 July 2000, rebel soldiers supporting George Speight overran the Sukunaivalu Barracks in Labasa, the largest town on the northern island of Vanua Levu. Besides seizing the barracks, these soldiers harassed ordinary citizens of Labasa, kidnapping bus commuters, ransacking homes, and seizing crops, and bullying, assaulting and harassing mostly Indo Fijians. The police was powerless and humiliated, and yours truly made satire of the police force to a "badhia bail"-a castrated bullock. I coined the caption of a cartoon which read, where one farmer in Labasa is telling another farmer, pointing to a bull: “My castrated bullock has more balls than the police force.” The police was really impotent under the then Commissioner Isikia Savua, who was having a jaunt in Vanuatu when anarchy was taking place in Labasa. [Read full four part account of Savua Enquiry at FIJI PUNDIT (www.fijipundit.blogspot.co.nz)] 

Commodore Frank Bainimarama(now Fiji's Prime Minister) with his officers, when he was leading the Army. After attempts on his life by his own people, he had been very cautious of whom to trust. Hence, he removed all thorns and disloyal  soldiers from the ranks and had loyal people who could be trusted.

Reports later emerged that the situation at Nabua Barracks on this fateful day was bloody and unheard of where Fijians were prepared to shoot their fellow soldiers in cold blood, while the milk of human kindness in some rebels stopped them from killing in cold blood. Fijian army officers were executed in cold blood by the rebel soldiers from Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW, which was equivalent to elite force of SAS) during this rebel uprising, with one soldier shot at point blank range while he was asleep.
Reports in local newspapers gave graphic details of how renegade Special Forces soldiers killed three loyal officers during the failed military mutiny at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Suva on this fateful day of 2 November, 2000. One was shot while seated at his computer. His blood was cleaned from the keyboard, according to the Fiji Sun.

One rebel from the Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) Unit refused to execute two officers at the height of the gun battle. Major Niko Bukarau, who escaped execution, told Fiji's Daily Post: "I should be in the mortuary if everything went as planned." While the CRW rebels had taken over the Nabua Barracks, it was perhaps their bad luck, as little did they realize that the most powerful and feared unit of RFMF, the Third Infantry Regiment was at Sigatoka Sand dunes, undertaking military exercises. As I passed Sigatoka on my way to Ba, I passed these soldiers waiting just below Matanipusi Hills, some 100km away from Suva, in Dee Cee Buses, as if readying themselves to pounce on the enemy. Somehow, I had a hunch that Fiji still had hope.

And the powerful Third Regiment was headed by a Bainimarama loyalist and career soldier, Colonel Viliame Seruvakula, who joined the Army in the early 1980s. He opposed the 2000 coup. And he stood out as Fiji’s saviour on that fateful day. They gallantly marched into Nabua camp, mounted a brief offensive, and led the all-powerful Third Regiment in a counter-offensive to retake the barracks from the rebels and maintain normalcy and security. They succeeded.
Sitiveni Rabuka-the original coup-maker. He was also implicated in the mutiny, and as a result lost his opportunity of a diplomatic posting.
Following the mutiny, Seruvakula made some controversial statements in the media. He alleged that he had been offered F$250,000 to support George Speight's attempted coup in May, and that former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka (who led two coups in 1987) had incited the mutiny and attempted to overthrow the military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.
It later emerged that this mutiny was led by Captain Shane Stevens. It left some casualties and fatalities, and we can say there was some collateral damage.  A total of 42 soldiers from the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit were subsequently convicted of involvement in the mutiny.

Bainimarama also accused Rabuka of having "politicized" the Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) The name of Lieutenant Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini has also been mentioned as the person who wanted to depose Bainimarama.

Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, Qaranivalu (right) from Naitasiri, who was convicted for inciting and supporting the mutiny.  He is seen here with his wife, who is sister of another soldier who has been cleansed from RFMF, ex Landforce Commander Ratu Jone Baleldrokadroka
Stevens later testified that Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, the Qaranivalu, a senior chief of Naitasiri Province and a Senator and former Cabinet Minister, had visited the barracks during the mutiny to offer moral and practical support, which included supplying the mutineers with cellphones. Later, Takiveikata was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the mutiny.

That was a flashback to events 16 years ago. Can you for a moment imagine what Fiji would be like now, 14 years on, had the devils, supported by some chiefs, succeeded in assassinating Bainimarama on that fateful day? What would have been the fate of Indo-Fijians? Another Girmit or slavery, or massacre, something like Luanda or Syria? What would have the so-called leaders, masquerading as Chiefs done to Fiji, after they had looted NBF and other institutions of Fiji under Rabuka regime?

Can you appreciate and perhaps now understand Bainimarama for taking the actions he took? How would you feel if your own people, in military, who were there to protect the leader, had become your killers? How about Chiefs? Instead of being mentors and respectable advisers, they abused their position for greed of power?

The events that unfolded subsequent to this attempt on his life is reflected in the tough stance Bainimarama took. He had warned Qarase to inculcate better governance, bereft of nationalism and racism, which Qarase ignored at his peril. He purged military and removed all the thorns and opposition, and strengthened it with loyal officers who believed in multiracialism, good governance and loyalty. The thieves…oops, I mean Chiefs, some of them abused their positions and power, and politicized the august body of GCC for personal and political gains. The biggest disappointment was Naitasiri's powerful and respected Qaranivalu, Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, who was implicated and sentenced. As a result the sham of Great Council of Chiefs had to go.

Fiji's Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama-thank God the mutiny failed 16 years ago - we have a stronger person leading the nation. We cannot imagine what Fiji would have been with those ethno-nationalists
With the election of Fiji’s First government as the now democratically elected government of Fiji and recognition by Australia, New Zealand and USA to be followed by the whole world, Fiji has come a long way since that fateful day on 2 November, 2000. Yes, this is the significant and historic day when Fiji’s current Prime Minister, Commodore Bainimarama played hide and seek with death in a cassava patch in Nabua. And like Diwali which heralds victory of life over death, life won on that crucial day, which we now realize made him into an ironman for the rascals and a friend of the weak.

Thank God for the 2 November, 2000, which gave back a stronger Bainimarama and a new pleasant history to Fiji. We are so thankful to the failed mutiny on this fateful day when victory, light and life respectively defeated loss, darkness and death.

Indeed, second of November should be declared local Diwali for Fiji – every year.

[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator and runs blod site, FIJI PUNDIT, that tells what others fail to tell. He is a former publisher of Fiji's Daily Post newspaper, and is a media and communications scholar, based in Auckland, New Zealand. This article was originally written two years ago.]