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RFMF Tells Of Mutiny: 21 Years On

It was the height of chaos in a country which prided itself in its hospitality, friendliness, and the way the world should be!
31 Oct 2021 12:52
RFMF Tells Of Mutiny: 21 Years On
Shops in Suva were looted and torched by citizens during the coup by George Speight and his group on May 19, 2000.

A day that will go down in the his­tory of the Republic of Fiji Mili­tary Forces as its darkest hour and to some extent its most enlighten­ing too in terms of the undercur­rent sweeping through a divided military that needed to a re-assure itself of its duty to the nation and the people of Fiji.

While there will be stories told of the heroism of some in the face of adversity and the cowardice of a few in the moments of chaos, we will share some insights of how the mutiny of November 2, 2000 was in no way an isolated incident nor was it a sudden or quickly hatched plan in a matter of minutes and hours.

The plan to takeover Queen Eliza­beth Barracks, its armories’, its Operational cell along with the kill­ing or incapacitation of the Com­mander RFMF was deliberate and methodical in its planning. Thank­fully, it lacked “precision” and “ac­curacy”.

To talk about the mutiny of No­vember 2, 2000, we must look at the events leading up to it. There will be differences in opinion and story depending on who you speak with, it doesn’t take away the fact that the mutiny happened.

And it was a result of the prevail­ing political situation in the coun­try at the time.

Attempting to relook at the inci­dent from a purely military per­spective can be daunting.

There will be grey areas where the lines become blurred due to the intertwining of events and those involved.

Nonetheless, the story must be told, and the events re-lived on pa­per to remind us of how a few very selfish, ego- centric and evil men almost succeeded in bringing our nation to its knees.

THE CONSTITUTIONS

After the two coups by Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987, the constitution in place from 1990 was seen as protect­ing the interests of the indigenous Fijians (iTaukei), and to ensure a consistency in the practice of “pro­tection”, Fijian leaders were also to be governing.

While the changes in the 1997 Con­stitution were brought about by the recognition of the iTaukei leaders to have some form of multiracial governance system set in place to allow for acceptance and re-engage­ment in the international diplomat­ic arena and to ensure economic recovery, there remained a segment of the indigenous Fijian society that saw the changes in the 1997 Constitution as a betrayal of their belief in “iTaukei supremacy”.

The elections of May 1999 under the 1997 Constitution gave birth to Fiji’s first Indo-Fijian Prime Minis­ter, Mahendra Chaudhry.

His Fiji Labour Party (FLP) won decisively by winning 37 of the 71 seats. Whatever reasons given for the demise of Rabuka’s Soqosoqo Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) Party in the 1999 elections, one thing is clear, the iTaukei voters had been split along racial lines and by see­ing through the evolution of Siti­veni Rabuka into a “multiracial politician”.

Perhaps too much had been “giv­en up” from the 1990 Constitution to allow for the 1997 “multiracial” Constitution.

The takeover of the Chaudhry Government by George Speight and members of the Counter Revo­lutionary Warfare (CRW) squadron on May 19, 2000, sparked a lot of in­terest within the RFMF establish­ment.

 

May 19, 2000, coup leader George Speight (with neck tie) with some members of the rebel armed forces followed by supporters and media personnel, Tukini Cama (on the phone), during the events of the takeover of the Mahendra Chaudhry Government.

May 19, 2000, coup leader George Speight (with neck tie) with some members of the rebel armed forces followed by supporters and media personnel, Tukini Cama (on the phone), during the events of the takeover of the Mahendra Chaudhry Government.

While there were elements of the RFMF who supported the takeover, the Commander RFMF at the time, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama was adamant that the RFMF would not be dragged into supporting the actions of a few renegades from QEB.

Once the CRW renegades, led by their Officer Commanding Major Ligairi, were convinced that the RFMF would not support their ac­tions, they then sat in for an attri­tion hostage situation.

As the hostage situation turned from hours, into days and then to weeks, there were reports of loot­ing, cattle theft, and lawlessness in communities around Fiji.

Shops in Suva were left in ruins after the May 19, 2000, civilian coup, led by George Speight and his group.

Shops in Suva were left in ruins after the May 19, 2000, civilian coup, led by George Speight and his group.

This was especially rife in areas where Indo Fijians were living, and the criminal opportunists exploited their fear to allow for maximum gain.

To add to the uncertainty, two sol­diers were wounded, and the life of a police officer was taken, the 1997 Constitution was abrogated, and the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, stood down.

 

The CRW men were playing on the general thinking that Fijians would never act to kill one another.

This allowed them access to me­dia, visitors, well-wishers and movement in and out of the Veiuto Parliament complex while their hostages were held within the con­fines of the complex.

The environment of paranoia within the RFMF also grew. Sen­ior officers who made decisions regarding the sustenance of the renegade CRW group in Parliament were seen to be actively working against the directive and wishes of the Commander of the RFMF.

It was an environment of doubt and continuous question. Every command from those in the higher echelons of the RFMF had to be dis­sected and re-examined to ensure that it was in line with the intent of the RFMF Commander.

Opportunists in the higher ech­elons of the RFMF were also be­coming evident. Intentional under­mining of the intent and decisions of the RFMF Commander became obvious in some instances.

MUTINY PLANNED

The signing of the Muanikau Ac­cord brought the hostage situation to an end and the renegade CRW group along with their adopted leader, George Speight, and sup­porters moved to Kalabu Fijian School outside Suva.

To back up removal of the RFMF leadership, the CRW squadron needed to have civilians supporting them.

An armed gunman at the Parliament gate in Veiuto, Suva, on May 19, 2000.

An armed gunman at the Parliament gate in Veiuto, Suva, on May 19, 2000.

The Qaranivalu assured the CRW members of the support of the va­nua. Information from the meet­ings suggested that the Qaranivalu allegedly had talks with a former RFMF Commander, who would be supporting the change of leader­ship.

The appearance of former Commander, General Sitiveni Rabuka, at QEB on that day created mixed feelings.

Former Republic of Fiji Military Forces Commander, Sitiveni Rabuka.

Former Republic of Fiji Military Forces Commander, Sitiveni Rabuka.

The Fiji Times on November 3, 2000, talks of how he (Rabuka) was ap­proached to medi­ate.

Yet, no names of who approached him is mentioned.

There is another train of thought in QEB that he was there “in sup­port” of the mutiny.

We will never know the truth. But 21 years on, we must ask the ques­tion why a former Commander of the RFMF turned up at QEB with­out an invite from the current Com­mander at the time!

Former military commanders the world over is revered and only turn up at Garrisons on the invite of its Commander.

That is the general custom and military tradition. The fact is, Com­modore Bainimarama had never is­sued an invite to General Rabuka to be in QEB on the day of the mutiny!

The original date for the mutiny had been set for Diwali of 2000.

Due to a compromise in that date, it was decided to leave the date open and work on the situation as it evolved.

It was the height of chaos in a country which prided itself in its hospitality, friendliness, and the way the world should be!

The decision by the RFMF Com­mander not to support the ille­gal actions of the renegade CRW squadron group during the hostage situation in Parliament in 2000 posed a major setback in the overall scheme of things for George Spei­ght and his group.

With no sustainable support from QEB the CRW group in Parliament were on their own with a group of civilians who were largely naïve to the intentions of the group.

Lieutenant Amelia Tadu – wounded during the mutiny of November 2, 2000, mutiny at QEB.

Lieutenant Amelia Tadu – wounded during the mutiny of
November 2, 2000, mutiny at QEB.

The Commander also made the decision to disband the unit once everything had settled down.

Following the move of the group to Kalabu from Parliament, the RFMF and Fiji Police Force stormed the Kalabu school compound and de­tained all those in the premises.

This included renegade members of the CRW squadron.

The night before, George Speight was apprehended and moved to Nukulau Island where a temporary prison had been set up.

George Speight attends a court case after his arrest in 2000. He is serving a life sentence for treason.

George Speight attends a court case after his arrest in 2000.
He is serving a life sentence for treason.

Following the clearance of Kalabu and the detainment of George Spei­ght and his group on Nukulau, the RFMF turned to the North and re­captured Sukanaivalu Barracks in Labasa and moved down to Savusa­vu for more security and stability operations.

After Vanua Levu, the RFMF de­ployed troops to Naitasiri to retake the Monasavu Dam. Naitasiri had openly declared their support for the takeover through Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, the Turaga na Qara­nivalu.

With the military moving from one operation to another, in an at­tempt to ensure that there was no widespread consistent armed in­surgency, there were already at­tempts at QEB to have members of the CRW squadron rehabilitated and reintegrated into the military.

While the members of the mili­tary who remained loyal to the RFMF Commander went about their daily duties, plans were also being hatched albeit in the form of expression of disappointment within a group to plan the mutiny.

Meetings held at Ragg Avenue in Suva and later in Nausori echoed sentiments of a dislike in the way the military had handled the Kala­bu, Sukanaivalu, Monasavu and other incidents around Fiji.

The iron fist that had descended itself in the form of the military teams that crushed any isolated incidents around the country were perhaps an outpouring of the frus­tration of the soldiers who had been ridiculed, and many a time, verbally abused by the supporters of George Speight during the 56 days of captivity in Parliament.

The meetings confirmed the need for a change of leadership in the RFMF.



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