A series of events took place in the Pacific republic of
Fiji in 2006,
involving an ongoing public feud between the government and military.
Tensions took a dramatic turn for the worse on 11–13 January, with
reports of unusual troop and naval deployments, crisis meetings of the
National Security Council, and the erection of police roadblocks.
Rumours also swept the capital that the Military Commander, Commodore
Frank Bainimarama, had been arrested by the police on government
orders, but the Military denied this. The crisis came to a head on the
13th, with Bainimarama announcing that he had dismissed the Acting
Land Force Commander, Lieutenant Colonel
Jone Baledrokadroka for
insubordination. This event was a precursor to the military coup that
finally took place on 5 December 2006.
The Republic of
Fiji Military Forces suffered serious and deep
divisions when a faction of elite soldiers helped stage a coup on May
19, 2000 and later led a bloody mutiny attempt on November 2 the same
The target of the failed mutiny, which left five rebel and three
loyalist soldiers dead, was the commander of the RFMF Commodore Voreqe
(Frank) Bainimarama. The mutiny left Bainimarama shaken and deeply
suspicious of any of his officer coups who contradicted him.
In the years that followed there were several low-key internal
differences in the RFMF over Bainimarama's continued public standoff
with the government of Laisenia Qarase. By January 2006, these
differences were beginning to spill out into the public domain, most
notably with the confrontation between Bainimarama and his
Jone Baledrokadroka over the
ongoing public feud.
Queen Elizabeth Barracks crisis
3 Naval and police deployments
4 The dismissal of Lieutenant Colonel Baledrokadroka
4.1 Baledrokadroka's version
4.2 Bainimarama's version
Suva calm, but ...
4.4.1 The Military investigation
4.4.2 The civil investigation
At first it seemed the military was moving to take over the government
between January 11–13, with unusual troop and naval deployments
around the capital. Military establishments were barricaded and
rumours spread that the military was preparing to seize power. Rumours
also swept the capital that the Military Commander, Commodore Frank
Bainimarama, had been arrested by the police on government orders, but
the military denied this.
In response the government called crisis meetings of the National
Security Council and police checkpoints were set up. It was an
internal military crisis that began a national concern because for
months previously the army's top brass had been hinting at a takeover.
The crisis came to a head on the 13th, with Bainimarama announcing
that he had dismissed the Acting Land Force Commander, Lieutenant
Jone Baledrokadroka for insubordination.
Baledrokadroka later said he had confronted Bainimarama about his
continued standoff with the government and had tried to persuade him
not to stage a coup. Bainimarama, for his part, accused Baledrokadroka
of threatening to stage a mutiny.
Queen Elizabeth Barracks crisis
On the afternoon of the 12th, Prime Minister
Laisenia Qarase called an
emergency meeting of the National Security Council, following reports
of a "serious situation" at the
Queen Elizabeth Barracks earlier in
the day. Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes was summoned to the
meeting, after which the Prime Minister, accompanied by more than the
usual number of body guards, told reporters that the security
situation was "under control", and appealed for calm.
The situation at the barracks was said to involve a group of Army
officers, led by Lieutenant Colonel Jone Baledrokadroka, Bainimarama's
second in command, confronting the Commander about his anti-government
statements. This was rumoured to have been followed by a meeting
between Bainimarama and other officers, in which he was said to have
solicited their support. The
Fiji Live news service reported that
senior officer Colonel
Meli Saubulinayau was subsequently called in to
mediate between the two factions, and was said to have defused the
tension. Military spokesman Captain
Neumi Leweni denied the rumours,
claiming that no unscheduled meetings had taken place. However, the
gates to the camp were closed and guarded by armed military police, an
Captain Leweni denied reports that Commodore Bainimarama had been
arrested, and said that he remained in charge of the Military. This
was confirmed by Bainimarama himself when he appeared in public at a
rugby union training session at Albert Park that evening. There was no
instability in the barracks, he insisted. "All the rumours that are
going around regarding the meeting and my arrest are all false. None
of it is true,"
Fiji Live quoted him as saying. He insisted that the
meetings held that day had been "normal procedure", asking
rhetorically, "Would I be here if there was instability between my
senior officers and me?" He denied rumours that two senior officers
alleged to have confronted him had been detained in a cell at the
Nabua barracks on his orders. There was nothing sinister about the
closing of the barracks gates, he said. He had been at dinner at the
time and had ordered the gates to be closed because he had not wanted
to be bothered talking the media, who were outside, he claimed.
Naval and police deployments
Unusual naval movements were also reported. In what the Navy described
as an exercise to test the ability of its fleet to react to
emergencies, three vessels were sent out into
Suva Harbour and kept
watch over Government House. The naval headquarters was also placed
under guard. Naval spokesman
Lieutenant Commander Bradley Bower later
claimed that the navy had only been conducting "normal routine
By nightfall, police roadblocks were going up around Suva, ostensibly
to maintain law and order. The Police Tactical Response Unit,
established to respond quickly to emergencies, was also put on special
Fiji Times reported the next day. Police spokesmen Lemeki
Jahir Khan denied that the roadblocks were connected with
the crisis, however. They were part of Operation Sasamaki, they
claimed - a crackdown on road offenders and petty criminals.
There were also reports of increased security at
It was announced that Home Affairs Minister
Josefa Vosanibola would
meet Acting President
Joni Madraiwiwi the next morning to discuss
the outcome of Madraiwiwi's talks with the Commander earlier in the
week. The meeting would decide what disciplinary action, if any, would
be taken against the Commander for his frequent outbursts against
government policies, it was said. Various news outlets produced
conflicting quotes from Commodore Bainimarama, on whether he had, or
had not, met with Madraiwiwi on the 11th. On the afternoon of the
12th, however, he told the
Fiji Village news service that the meeting
had in fact taken place, but declined to reveal any details about what
had been discussed.
The dismissal of Lieutenant Colonel Baledrokadroka
Fiji Live reported that Commodore Bainimarama had dismissed
Baleidrokadroka from his position of Land Force Commander, in the wake
of the previous day's altercation. The dismissal was confirmed by
Military spokesman Captain
Neumi Leweni and by Baleidrokadroka
himself, who told
Fiji Television that he was on leave, pending
resignation. Bainimarama himself had taken over the command in person,
it was reported. On 15 January, he told a press conference that two
new Chiefs of Staff - Colonel
Pita Driti as Chief of Staff Land Force,
based at Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks, and Captain
Esala Teleni as
Chief of Staff Strategic Headquarters in central Suva.
The Sunday Star-Times newspaper reported on 15 January
that Baledrokadroka was the brother of Senator Adi Lagamu Vuiyasawa,
the de facto wife of
Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, the
Chief) of Naitasiri, who has been convicted and imprisoned for his
role in the mutiny of 2 November 2000. The Sunday Star-Times
considered this detail important, and noted that all of Fiji's
newspapers had omitted to mention it.
Baledrokadroka told the
Fiji Times on the 14th that he had resigned
rather than obey a "treasonous" order of Bainimarama's. "I asked the
commander for his resignation on the grounds that it was perfectly
clear that he was going to commit treason," he told the
Fiji Times. In
a further statement the next day, he clarified that at a meeting of
senior officers on the 9th, Bainimarama had hinted that he might be
arrested and instructed them to come and free him in such an event. He
denied claims by unnamed army sources that he had tried to stage a
mutiny. "I am a professional soldier and I would not dream of such a
thing," he said emphatically.
Fiji Live the next day that the crisis for him had begun when
he had told a colleagues at a meeting of Commissioned Senior Officers
that he was opposed to the Commander's recent antigovernment
pronouncements. His motive for opposing the Commander was
professional, not political, he claimed, and emphasized that he would
not change his stand.
Speaking to the
Fiji Sun on the 14th, Baleidrokadroka condemned the
Commander for accusing him of threatening to shoot him. "He has lied
and he knows that he is lying," Baledrokadroka declared. "... I
absolutely deny that I threatened violence against the Commander and
I’m deeply shocked at the allegations."
On the 16th, Baledrokadroka denied claims made by the
Party and by Commodore Bainimarama himself that he had colluded with
Prime Minister Qarase in an attempt to depose the Commander. "They
(the FLP) are still sort of hanging on to that, the victim thesis that
they have been the victim of coups in the past and its only fair in
their eyes that the Commander do something, whatever it is. At the
moment it looks to be extra constitutional," he told
He further claimed that Bainimarama had attempted to trick him into
executing a coup. The second paragraph of an order handed to him on 8
January seemed "sinister", he said, and claimed "legal experts" (whom
he did not name) concurred with his opinion that it was tantamount to
a coup plot.
Fiji Village reported on 14 January that at a press conference held
that afternoon, Commodore Bainimarama said that Baleidrokadroka had
been dismissed for insubordination and for failing the loyalty test of
the Military. The command which Baleidrokadroka had refused to obey
had been only a test, which he had failed miserably, the Commander
claimed. He had been willing to give Baleidrokadroka another chance,
he said, but Baleidrokadroka had made matters worse by talking to the
media. Baleidrokadroka's dismissal would be a lesson to other
potential insubordinates, he said. The message was clear that any acts
of insubordination would be dealt with quickly and decisively. "Now
soldiers know what will happen if they support JB,"
Fiji Live reported
him as saying. "Obedience is paramount in the army."
Bainimarama was joined by Military spokesman Captain Neumi Leweni, who
Military Police were now investigating the circumstances
surrounding the barracks crisis that led to Baleidrokadroka's
resignation, and a Board of Inquiry had been set up. On 16 January,
Lieutenant Colonel Etueni Caucau, Bainimarama's legal adviser, told
Fiji Live that an inquiry was necessary to prevent a repeat of the
2000 mutiny. A number of "borderline officers" had been identified
whose loyalty would be investigated, Caucau said.
Caucau had earlier told
Fiji Live on the 14th that Baleidrokadroka had
"threatened" the Commander and had been confined to his office by
other senior officers to prevent him from carrying out his threat.
Baleidrokadroka's claim to have outside support, and his alleged
attempts to elicit support from soldiers, was what had prompted the
closing and guarding of the barracks' gates, Caucau added.
Fiji Times quoted Bainimarama on the 16th as saying that
Baleidrokadroka had threatened shoot him not once but twice. "First
was on Thursday when I called him on the mobile. He said he was going
to shoot me and then again on Friday when I met him face-to-face," he
told the Times. "I have a witness to that account." He said he was
going to present his "evidence" that Baleidrokadroka had wconspired
with senior government officials to plot against him.
Acting President Madraiwiwi held separate meetings with Bainimarama
and Prime Minister Qarase. Home Affairs Minister
Josefa Vosanibola was
present at the latter meeting, at which it was agreed that the Acting
President, Prime Minister, and Military Commander would meet on the
morning of 16 January (Monday). Increased security around Government
House, the President's official residence, was evident. Appealing for
calm, the Prime Minister reiterated earlier assurances that there was
no threat to stability.
Suva calm, but ...
Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes announced that police officers were
resuming "normal duties," following a personal assurance from
Commodore Bainimarama that there was no threat to national security.
The national security alert had been unnecessary and the rumours
sweeping the nation had been "media generated," he considered. He also
denied rumours that weapons recently purchased by the police were to
counter the Military should the need arise. "They are not in any sense
part of a program initiated by government by me or by anybody else to
equip the police to somehow ... counter any military threat," he
insisted. "There is no way the police are gearing up to take on that
Two separate but parallel investigations, one conducted by the
Military and one by the civil service, were launched into the
The Military investigation
Captain Neumi Leweni, a spokesman for the Fijian Military, announced
on 20 January that four senior army officers had been appointed the
day before to investigate the alleged mutiny plot. The four officers
would not be named until they had completed their work, Leweni said.
The Board of Inquiry met for the first time on 25 January at Queen
Elizabeth Barracks. Leweni said that meetings would continue
throughout the week, but could not set out a time frame for the
investigations. Commodore Bainimarama confirmed that he had been
summoned to appear before the board on the 27th, but Baledrokadroka
had not been summoned, according to his lawyer, Devanesh Sharma.
Leweni said that several senior officers had been implicated in the
Fiji Television revealed on 30 January that Baledrokadroka had been
summoned, but that Leweni said that a letter had been received from
Baledrokadroka's lawyers seeking clarification on the membership and
proceedings of the Board of Inquiry.
Home Affairs Chief Executive Officer
Lesi Korovavala was also
summoned, but refused, citing his workload. The Military was
displeased by his refusal, Leweni said.
Lawyer Sharma said on 1 February that Baledrokadroka was willing to
testify, but only if certain issues were clarified. Sharma cited the
constitutional rights of defendants not to testify against themselves.
Baledrokadroka finally did appear before the board on 2 February,
after his constitutional rights had been clarified by lawyers. He
handed over a written statement; neither he nor the Military made any
comments outside as to what it contained.
Lieutenant Colonel Samuela Saumatua was revealed as the Chairman of
the Board of Inquiry on 3 February. The same day, it was revealed that
the inquiry would continue, despite the noncooperation of a number of
Military lawyer Major Kitione Tuinaosara was quoted by
Fiji Live on 4
February as saying that investigations could be concluded within a
week. More than 60 witnesses with military connections had been
called, Tuinaosara said. He denied that Baledrokadroka himself was the
primary focus of the investigation; the object of it was to determine
what actually happened on 12 January, he said.
Fiji Live on 10–11 February that Korovavala's testimony
would no longer been needed, even though he had recently changed his
earlier refusal to give evidence. Over 60 witnesses had been called. A
source reported to be close to Baledrokadroka quoted him as
threatening to open "a can of worms" on the Military if forced to
testify. Meanwhile, lawyer
Devanesh Sharma questioned the validity of
the Board of Inquiry, saying that its being chaired by Lieutenant
Colonel Samuela Saumatua, a subordinate of Baledrokadroka's, was out
of order. Leweni denied this.
Leweni confirmed to
Fiji Village on 14 February that the inquiry had
been concluded, and that its findings were to be forwarded to the
Legal Section of the Military for a decision on whether to lay any
charges against Baledrokadroka or any accomplices he may have had. He
did not reveal whether Commodore Bainimarama would take a direct role
in the decision.
Leweni announced on 28 February that the inquiry had been concluded,
and that a report was being compiled. The report would be forwarded to
the Legal Division of the Military, he said.
Fiji Live and
Fiji Television reported on 6 March that the Military
was considering a court martial against Baledrokadroka. A civil trial
was also a possibility, Tuinaosara told
reported that two other officers would be charged with Baledrokadroka.
He reiterated this stance on 13 March.
Fiji Village reported that
charges of insubordination and mutiny would be laid against
Baledrokadroka and his alleged accomplices.
The civil investigation
Radio New Zealand
Radio New Zealand announced on 6 February that Fiji's Public Service
Commission (PSC) had appointed an independent team to investigate the
Lesi Korovavala had been involved in the alleged
Fiji Village quoted PSC Chief Executive
Anare Jale on
the 8th as disclosing that the team comprised two members. This was
later expanded to three members.
On 16 February, the PSC named Vasantika Patel, a
Nadi lawyer, to lead
the investigation against Korovavala. Businessman Tony Philipps and
PSC officer Mereani Vuinakodu were also stated to be members of the
On 27 February, Military spokesman Captain
Neumi Leweni publicly asked
whey Korovavala had not been suspended from his office, in view of the
seriousness of the allegations against him. According to the
he pointed out that a conviction for a similar offence had resulted in
a life sentence for the
Qaranivalu of Naitasiri,
Takiveikata, and that an allegation of a much lesser offence had
resulted in the forced transferral of
Poseci Bune from his
secretaryship of the PSC to the Foreign Ministry and subsequently to
the diplomatic service. (Bune was later found innocent). PSC Chairman
Stuart Huggett responded that no action could be taken against
Korovavala while investigations were in progress.
Fiji Crisis: Interview with Jone Baledrokadroka". www.herald.co.nz.
New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 16 June