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EDITORIAL: Christmas Is War Vets: Fijian Govt Will Compensate, UK Won’t

Captain Maleli Nacagilevu saw two mushroom clouds over Christmas Island from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The year was 1958 and the mushroom clouds came from explosions of nuclear
27 Jan 2015 10:24
EDITORIAL: Christmas Is War Vets: Fijian Govt Will Compensate, UK Won’t
Christmas Island veteran Maleli Nacagilevu (right)

Captain Maleli Nacagilevu saw two mushroom clouds over Christmas Island from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

The year was 1958 and the mushroom clouds came from explosions of nuclear devices by the British.

Mr Nacagilevu and more than 70 Fijian soldiers were sent to Christmas Island without knowing what the mission was all about. Christmas Island was then part of the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. It is now Kiritimati in independent Kiribati.

It was the height of the Cold War and Britain was conducting a series of tests to develop a nuclear capability as a deterrent in case the former USSR (the Soviet Union) declared war on the West.

Mr Nacagilevu, now 80, remembers wearing khaki trousers and long sleeve shirts and donning gas masks and goggles.

After the explosions, they followed the wind direction to escape the drift of the fallout.

While he did not suffer any serious effects from the fallout, one of his own had suffered from sterility. His comrades, many of whom have died, carried scars from Christmas Island.

Some of the children of nuclear veterans were born with congenital deformities and unidentified illnesses.

Scientists believe that exposure to radiation caused genetic damage, resulting in the development of new hereditary disorders. Other children of nuclear veterans suffered chronic musculoskeletal disorders; deformity of the hands, feet, bladder and genitals; heart malformation; hearing defects; spina bifida, and a host of other illnesses. Some decided not to have children, for fear of perpetuating genetic abnormalities.

Like their British counterparts, the Fijian war veterans have been campaigning for compensation for decades. Last year, a charity, the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association (BNTVA), pressured the British Labour Government to pay compensation. But British Prime Minister David Cameron, said his government’s position had not changed.

“The government and I continue to recognise and be grateful to all servicemen who participated in the British nuclear testing programme,” he wrote, “but … it would be divisive to offer nuclear test veterans this level of recognition for being involved in the project, when those who have undertaken other specialist duties would not be receiving the same.

“I can therefore only reiterate that I will not be making an oral statement on this subject to the House.” It is obvious from this statement that despite a growing body of evidence about the Christmas Island fallout, Mr Cameron had ignored it.

But the same cannot be said of his Fijian counterpart Voreqe Bainimarama. This Friday, he will be announcing that Christmas Island veterans and their families will be getting compensation.

This is a historic event and one that Britain will watch with interest. Historically, this was Britain’s responsibility. The Fijians were there as subjects of the Queen because Fiji was a British colony.

If Britain was not going to compensate its own citizens today, it was likely that Fiji would follow it.

But the FijiFirst Government decided otherwise – that in the new Fiji everyone would be given a fair go including those who were forgotten by past successive governments.

Only Mr Nacagilevu and those affected would know how much it means to be recognised and compensated.

“Thank you, Prime Minister, Mr Bainimarama,” he said.

 

 Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

 




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