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The 2000 Coup: The Untold Story: Residents Recall Muaniweni Terror

The 2000 Coup: The Untold Story: Residents Recall Muaniweni Terror
Fiji Sun news team reporter Sheldon Chanel interviews an unidentified ITaueki farmer who sheltered displaced Indo Fijian farmers at Muainaweni during the 2000 civil upheavel. Photo:Jone Luvenitoga
September 18
11:00 2017

Seventeen years after George Speight led the 2000 coup, some residents in Muaniweni, Naitasiri still live in fear.

But many are buoyed by the security assurance from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces that there would not be a repeat of the violence.

They saw the RFMF eliminate the rebel threat after they were attacked initially. The lush farming delta, famous for its rich soil content, served as one of the flashpoints during the violent uprising.

For the first time yesterday a long-time resident, who did not wish to be named for fear of retaliation, said some so-called iTaukei ethnic nationalist rebels one day came to the area and began looting and burning houses in 2000.

He said he was forced to look on helplessly as the so-called rebel aggressors slaughtered cows and uprooted crops. A famous store in the area was also violently emptied of its contents.

Speight’s coup had displaced a great number of the Indo-Fijian population.

However, the farmer said he did not join his Indo-Fijian neighbours in escaping the country because Muaniweni was the only place he had ever called home.

For him, now that the current Government had brought about security to the country, he said he would be supporting them.

He also pointed out that as days went by they felt safer when soldiers came in numbers and began patrolling the area. This, he said, drove out the so-called rebel aggressors who had spread terror among the residents, allowing them to return to their homes.

Before the coup, Indo-Fijian and iTaukei farmers in Muaniweni lived together in peace, even sharing farming ideas and crops with each other.

Many of these farmers had called Muaniweni home for years, but were suddenly being forced out by their very own neighbours.

Speight, a local businessman, on May 19, 2000 had grabbed political power at gun-point when he deposed the then Prime Minister of Fiji, Mahendra Chaudhry. Mr Chaudhry and ministers in the Labour government were held captive in Parliament for 56 days.

An iTaukei resident, who also opted to withhold his identity, remembers the exact day the violence began.

He said: “It was one of those incidents you remember for the rest of your life.

“When I came to Muaniweni I saw a group of boys at the canteen and I thought they were just buying stuff. But later I realised they were looting the shop.

“I walked up to them and told them, please do not do anything to my friends or you yourself may become a victim.

“At that moment I was a bit afraid but I had to stand my ground for my friends.”

The former Fijian soldier also saw neighbouring houses burn as black smoke billowed from the previously tranquil Muaniweni.

Ignoring the danger around him, he volunteered to give Indo-Fijian families shelter in his home as the looting and violence continued.

Asked what he would do if the rebels caught him, he replied: “I was ready to stand my ground against them.”

Another resident who was 25 years old at the time of the civil unrest said he saw the so-called nationalists looting and burning homes in Muaniweni.

He said he still had vivid memories of the uprising.

“They came inside our houses and took whatever they wanted,” he said.

“They would ask for money and punch and kick you if you didn’t give it to them.

“Other Indo-Fijians who were being robbed would scream and yell and tell us to run away to Lautoka where someone said a boat would take us to New Zealand.”

At the height of the 2000 coup, The Telegraph had reported that nearly a 100 Indo-Fijians supposedly hid and waited-out the violence in the dense forests that surrounded Muaniweni.

Driving down the dirt road to the farming settlement, it’s easy to forget the violent history of this beautifully serene place.

This was a population of farmers who knew little about why a coup happened; but they soon found themselves in the epicentre of its ensuing violence.

As the farmers toiled on their fields yesterday, the visit from the Fiji Sun team reminded them of an event that ignited persistent feelings of apprehension and fear in them.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

Feedback:  sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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