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Wednesday, 7 June, 2000, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Fiji hostages' long ordeal
An armed Fiji military soldier patrols a roadblock, in the captial Suva
There is a high military presence in Suva
By Phil Mercer in Suva, Fiji

Fiji is praying for the release of the 27 men and four women imprisoned inside the building that was once the heart of democracy here.

The group is divided among racial lines. Native Fijians are locked away in the main debating chamber. The ethnic Indians are in a two-storey block next door.

There is optimism at times, and other times they are not so happy

Red Cross official
Among them is the father of a teenage girl who is too frightened to be identified and says the lives of all around her have been turned upside down.

She said: "We cannot stay in a house for a long time. We have to keep moving because we are quite afraid.

"At times we stay in our home but then we move to some of our relatives' homes for our own safety."

Daily contact

Letters are passed between the hostages and their families by the Red Cross each day.

Red Cross worker
The Red Cross takes in daily supplies
Its director-general in Fiji, John Scott, has visited the compound every morning since the crisis started on 19 May. He said the mood of those being held was constantly shifting

"There's optimism at times and other times they are not so happy," he said. "But all things considered I think they've remained pretty stable."

He said conditions were adequate. Along with messages from relatives he takes daily rations of food and medicine, as well as blankets, mattresses and clothes.

I do not deny... that perhaps emotionally they have endured some stress

George Speight
The atmosphere inside the compound is quieter now. There are still people, mainly young men, camped in the grounds. But the hundreds who came to sing and dance with the rebels in the early days have gone.

The rebels have allowed a doctor in to see the captives. There has been brutality.

The former prime minister, Majendra Chaudhry, has been beaten and also dragged onto a lawn with a gun held to his head.

Rebels' trump card

The man responsibility for their captivity, George Speight, has said they are all fine.

"They're in very good condition," he said. "They get a chance to get out of their room on a daily basis, get around the yard.

George Speight
George Speight says the hostages are fine
"They are attended to by physicians, the Red Cross comes in, they've got communication with their families, fresh clothes, good accommodation and good meals, daily showers.

"All that is there for them.

"Whilst all that is happening I do not for one second deny the possibility that perhaps emotionally they have endured some stress. All that is part and parcel of the whole coup situation and we're very mindful of that, which is why we are going out of our way to ensure that their custody is as comfortable as possible."

The rebels have threatened to execute all 31 hostages if any attempt is made by the army to free them by force. Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the senior officer in charge of the country, is adamant that is not an option.

Talks have, for now, been abandoned by the army. It means yet more agony for the hostages and their families.

George Speight has said they remain his trump card - one he will not give up easily.

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See also:

05 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji rebels reject ultimatum
05 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Pressure mounts on Fiji
02 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: What now for Fiji?
02 Jun 00 | Media reports
Indian media views Fiji 'nightmare'
02 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji hostages 'free by Monday'
01 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji hostage 'breakthrough'
30 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
International dismay at Fiji coup
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