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The BBC's Phil Mercer in Suva
"For the hostages and their families, the long wait for freedom goes on"
 real 28k

Military spokesman Filipo Tarakinikini
talks about the latest stumbling block
 real 28k

Saturday, 24 June, 2000, 06:39 GMT 07:39 UK
Rebels blamed for hostage deal delay
Rebel leader George Speight
New doubts about Speight's willingness to free his hostages
Fiji's military rulers say efforts to end the country's five-week-old hostage crisis have been stalled by the rebel leader, George Speight.

Army spokesman Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini said Mr Speight had turned up with a fresh set of demands which involved a change to the way a new Fijian president was to be appointed.

Nationalist rebels have been pressing for more power for ethnic Fijians.

The new developments came at what had been sceduled as an official ceremony to ratify an accord.

There has been no word from Mr Speight about the negotiations, which have now ended for the day at a venue not far from the parliament compound where the rebel leader and his gunmen have been holding the 31 hostages.

We are dealing with irrational people and we are trying our best to get some sort of rational deal

Army spokesman Colonel Tarakinikini
Both sides in the crisis had earlier announced that a deal would be signed at 11am local time (2300 GMT Friday).

Military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama and Mr Speight met at the appointed hour to look over the final draft, but talks quickly collapsed.

Fiji Radio said Mr Speight had rejected a plan to release the hostages - who include Mahendra Chaudhry, the country's first ethnic Indian prime minister - within three hours of signing the accord.

Mahendra Chaudhry
Chaudhry: 'haggard and dejected'
Mr Speight is now being quoted as saying it could be another month before they are set free.

Negotiations between the two sides have broken down on a number of occasions since the armed forces took control of Fiji on 29 May to stem a wave of looting and violence sparked by the coup attempt.

Final deal

Any final deal is expected to involve the release of the captives, the formation of an interim civilian government and the issue of an amnesty for the rebel leader and his group.

Map of Fiji

The trouble began when gunmen led by Mr Speight stormed the parliament building.

Negotiations between the military, the rebels and Fiji's traditional chiefs about ending the crisis, began almost a week ago.

The military has previously said it wants to hold on to power for another three months to maintain law and order, and would then create an interim government to prepare for fresh elections within two years.

Analysts say that when details of any accord finally emerge, attention will focus on how far it meets Mr Speight's initial demand that Indians be excluded from future Fijian governments.

Economic ramifications

Many in the Indian minority are scrambling to leave the country and the economy is in a downward spiral, with the tourism, garment and sugar industries reporting paralysis at the cost of millions of dollars a day and thousands of layoffs.

Fiji has already been suspended from Commonwealth policy-making bodies because of the military takeover, and Australia, New Zealand and the United States have threatened to impose economic sanctions if it does not restore democracy.

Australian trades unions have refused to handle cargo to and from Fiji, paralysing much of the country's exports.

Meanwhile the deposed prime minister, who has been beaten and at times had a gun held to his head by the rebels, was reported on Friday to be looking "haggard and dejected".

The Fiji Times newspaper, whose journalists had viewed the hostages from a distance a day earlier, said that "Mr Chaudhry... shuffled along with his head bowed and shoulders stooped.

"He was not the same man who only two months ago strode purposefully along the same corridors on government business," the paper said.

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See also:

21 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Deal near for Fiji hostage crisis
20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Pressure builds for hostage release
17 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji rebels to help rewrite constitution
11 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji coup begins to bite
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji hostages' long ordeal
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Speight's hold over Fiji
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