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The BBC's Jonathan Head in Suva
"A characteristically laid-back style of military rule"
 real 28k

Rebel leader George Speight talks to the BBC
"I will do whatever my people want me to do"
 real 28k

Fijian military spokesman, Col Filipo Tarakinikini
"The rebels have substantial political support"
 real 28k

Thursday, 1 June, 2000, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Fiji coup 'breakthrough'
George Speight, coup leader
Speight wants power for indigenous Fijians
Fiji's military say they have made a breakthrough in their talks with coup leader George Speight which could lead to the release of hostages including the country's prime minister.

Military spokesman Captain Eroni Volavola said Mr Speight or some of his supporters may be invited to play a role in a new civilian government.

But he added that the coup leader would be unlikely to become prime minister.

Until now the military had only been prepared to allow the rebels membership of an advisory council to the government.



If my people don't want me to play a role, I will go back to my village and milk my cows,"

George Speight
Mr Volavola said a full announcement on the deal would probably be made on Friday.

"We have had a very major breakthrough," he added. "I think we can say that within the next 24 to 36 hours, you'll start seeing a lot of very positive things coming out from parliament."

Mr Speight has been holding Fiji's ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry hostage along with members of his government at the parliamentary complex since 19 May.

Arms

Mr Volavola said the breakthrough followed the first face-to-face meeting between military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama and Mr Speight.


Checkpoint, Fiji
Checkpoints were strengthened ahead of the meeting
The rebel leader declared himself prime minister shortly after storming parliament and claiming power in the name of indigenous Fijians.

He has refused to recognise the legitimacy of the government of Commodore Bainimarama, who has been running Fiji since declaring martial law on Monday.

The two met for more than three hours at the Queen Elizabeth barracks, on a hilltop overlooking the Fijian capital, Suva.

Asked if Mr Speight's rebels had agreed to give up their arms, Captain Volavola said: "That is one of the demands of the army, so that is something that will have to happen."

After the talks, Mr Speight went into a meeting with the allies that he has named to his own "Cabinet" for running the country.

Committment

Earlier Mr Speight told the BBC he was willing to die to ensure what he described as a secure future for indigenous Fijians.

"I will be whatever my people want me to be.

"If my people don't want me to play a role, I will step back and go back to my village and milk my cows," he added.


The military
The military are reluctant to confront the rebels
Mr Speight has demanded a government which is committed to keeping ethnic Indians - who make up about 44% of Fiji's population - out of the country's top jobs.

"The Indian Government over the last 12 months has embarked on a systematic programme of eroding the rights of Fijians," he said.

He has told the country's military rulers he will not release Mr Chaudhry and 30 other politicians until there is agreement on the composition of an interim government

Mr Speight said the military had performed "a coup within a coup" and demanded they "back off".

Demands

Commodore Bainimarama has said he will postpone the naming of an interim government until the situation stabilises.

Fiji's military rulers had nominated Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, the son-in-law of President Ratu Mara - who stepped down to make way for the military takeover - and the husband of one of the hostages.

But the nomination was withdrawn following objections from Mr Speight.

Mr Speight's spokesman said Ratu Nailatikau lacked commitment to the cause - a reference to the rebels' demands that ethnic Indians be barred from top jobs.

Commodore Bainimarama says Mr Speight now has the three things he said he wanted before releasing his hostages: the ousting of the president, an amnesty and the removal of the 1997 constitution.

But reports said earlier negotiations had appeared to stall over the rebels' demand that everyone involved in the uprising be granted an amnesty.

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See also:

30 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
International dismay at Fiji coup
29 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji army takes to streets
27 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji prime minister sacked
31 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Fiji stand-off
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