Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fiji Faces Possible Coup ; This Week's Leadership Conflict Adds the Island Nation to Australia's Growing List of Unstable Neighbors

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fiji Faces Possible Coup ; This Week's Leadership Conflict Adds the Island Nation to Australia's Growing List of Unstable Neighbors

Article excerpt

Fiji's Army brazenly defied the country's police force by seizing thousands of rounds of ammunition Wednesday, increasing concerns about a fourth military coup on the island nation in less than 20 years.

Australia was readying warships Wednesday to evacuate 7,000 of its citizens. Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said he was "very concerned" about the possibility of a coup.

A series of crises over the past two months has plunged relations between Australia's capital Canberra and its South Pacific neighbors to a new low. In addition to the tension in Fiji, Australia is struggling to manage standoffs with the Solomon Islands, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea amid accusations that it bullies its smaller, poorer island neighbors.

The recent spat of diplomatic scuffles could be seen as a trial period for what some are calling Australia's "tough love" policy toward its neighbors.

Opposition members of Parliament have accused the government of committing troops to Iraq and Afghanistan at the expense of its responsibilities closer to home. Recent events in the South Pacific have raised fears here that the Australian Army is overstretched by too many deployments.

Australia has taken a more robust approach to its immediate region since the Sept. 11 attacks on the US, fearful that failing states could be exploited by terrorists or international crime syndicates.

It has invested money and manpower throughout the region but is seen by some countries as a bully.

Australia's prime minister, John Howard, has warned that South Pacific states must stamp out corruption and improve economic management if aid is to continue.

"It's not arrogant to want Australia's money to be spent wisely," Mr. Howard said, noting that Australia had spent $800 million (US $620 million) since 2003 helping the Solomon Islands recover from a bloody ethnic insurgency.

In what amounts to the latest regional crisis, Fijian troops seized a consignment of ammunition recently shipped in from South Korea from a wharf in the capital, Suva.

The seizure of the 7.5 tons of ammunition was in direct contravention of orders issued by the country's Australian police chief, Andrew Hughes, who said it was too dangerous to release it until the political situation calmed down. …

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