|Philip Reeker, State Department Acting Spokesman|
Excerpt from the Daily Press Briefing
Department of State Press Briefing Room
Washington, DC, June 1, 2000
ACTING SPOKESMAN REEKER: Let me start with a statement I'd like to make regarding Fiji.
MR. REEKER: I'll have you note, Mr. Lee, that we've put out several statements on Fiji over the previous days.
The United States continues to be very concerned about developments in the ongoing crisis in Fiji. We condemn the repugnant criminal actions of George Speight and his band of gunmen who are still holding hostages in Fiji's parliamentary complex. The hostages should be released immediately and unconditionally.
The United States opposes any unconstitutional change of government in the Republic of the Fiji Islands. The consequences of any such action would be substantial and detrimental to Fiji's standing in the international community. Upholding basic principles of democracy and international standards of human rights as embodied in Fiji's 1997 constitution will be a benchmark for determining our reaction to the crisis in Fiji.
An unconstitutional change of government is taking place in Fiji. The army commander has declared he is in power and the 1997 constitution has been revoked. Amnesty has been offered to George Speight and some of his followers, and it is uncertain when democracy will return to Fiji.
Such actions fly in the face of international norms and standards of democracy. We are therefore considering a range of steps, in consultation with other nations, that could have serious impact on Fiji's international contacts, and on outside assistance.
We will post that statement in a written form for you following the briefing.
QUESTION: Can you give us an idea of what the range of steps is?
MR. REEKER: At this point I think it would be premature to speculate on those. It's not useful, but I would note that US law provides that no foreign assistance may go to any country whose duly-elected head of government is deposed by military coups or decree. QUESTION: Do you what the aid to Fiji is?
MR. REEKER: I'd have to get you breakdowns on that. QUESTION: Why today? Why are we -- why this much of an outcry today, when it's been somewhat --
MR. REEKER: I think we've been noting developments, negative developments in Fiji for a number of days now. We've been condemning those repeatedly. We've had lengthy discussions here, from this podium. We've released statements, and this is another statement to note that this hostage crisis continues to go on. Hostages are continuing to be held for absolutely no reason, and those hostages should be released immediately and unconditionally, as I said in the statement.
QUESTION: You are now considering this to be a change in government?
MR. REEKER: As I said in the statement, an unconstitutional change of government is taking place. Once again, as I said yesterday, the situation is somewhat in flux; it remains extremely unsettled and uncertain. Recent press reports indicate that there may be some breakthrough in negotiations between the head of the armed forces and the ethnic Fijian businessman, Mr. Speight, on some proposal to end the hostage situation, but we cannot confirm this, which is why I want to reiterate once again that that situation should end immediately and unconditionally.
There are a number of hostages still in that complex, including Prime Minister Chaudhry, and I think as I made clear, we're repeating our call for unconditional and immediate release of all those persons held hostage, and would hope that the reports that we've seen are accurate. We'll be monitoring that very closely.
QUESTION: Can you tell us who you are in consultation with on this? I assume the Australians are there. Any others that you can name, and are you hoping for a kind of concerted package of measures; is that what you're working towards?
MR. REEKER: Well, as I noted, we are in consultation with a number of governments, other countries in the international community. We're working very closely, and consulting with the Australians, and other governments in the region and elsewhere, and we will continue to that. We have been obviously, all along.
QUESTION: My thought is something -- why have you decided today, as opposed to yesterday or the day before, that now what is going on there, what is taking place is an unconstitutional change in government?
MR. REEKER: As I think I made clear --
QUESTION: But there had to have been something that happened between yesterday and today for you to move from saying things are in flux, and while we want a constitutional --
MR. REEKER: I don't think there had to be any particular thing. What we've seen is an ongoing thing with developing aspects of this that have been very negative, and we've been condemning those all along. We've been looking for a release of the hostages, and I'm reiterating that again here. And as I said yesterday it was very difficult, and it remains difficult, to determine exactly how things stand in Fiji. It's very much an unsettled, uncertain situation there, but clearly an unconstitutional change of government is taking place.
Again, nothing is final in this situation. So we're watching that, but we're making these statements to put across our views very strongly, and urge that the hostages be released, and that they return to a constitutional process.
QUESTION: Phil, if I could just pick up on that. I do remember you saying repeatedly yesterday, that because this situation was unsettled and uncertain, the US couldn't make any kind of determination as to what would happen. So, you know, just to follow up on what Matt and Rebecca were saying, what changed between yesterday and today that now it's okay to say it's unconstitutional?
MR. REEKER: I ran through for you the things that have gone on there. You have, as I said, a repugnant criminal action continuing where gunmen are holding hostages in the parliament. That continues. We're unable to confirm the reports that there may have been some breakthrough for that.
What I noted is that unconstitutional change of government is taking place. That is the same formulation in terms of a continuum. Something is taking place; it's not complete. And what we're calling for is a release of the hostages --
QUESTION: You don't recognize the military as being the legitimate head of the government?
MR. REEKER: No, I think I noted for you that, along the events that have occurred, the commander has declared he is in power and that the 1997 constitution is revoked. Amnesty has apparently been offered to Speight and some of his followers. And when democracy will return to Fiji is clearly still unclear.
QUESTION: Is it necessary for Prime Minister Chaudhry to be reinstated under that formulation that you've just put forward?
MR. REEKER: I think at this point, as I went through again yesterday, what we want is a release of the hostages and a return to a constitutional process to settle things in Fiji.
QUESTION: A process that may not include Prime Minister --
MR. REEKER: A 1997 constitution, which I talked about yesterday, which we think represents the internationally recognized norms in terms of human rights; a multiethnic society, which is important for Fiji. And that's what we're calling for.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that, basically, 14 days after armed gunmen stormed parliament, took the Prime Minister hostage along with other members of his cabinet, and after all the events that happened, the United States is finally acknowledging that there is a coup underway?
MR. REEKER: Matt, I think you've been here for all of those 14 days, and you've followed very closely the remarks that we've made from the beginning when the Secretary herself discussed her concern about what was happening there. And rather than leap to judgments in a situation that was uncertain -- and still remains uncertain as to exactly what's going on, who is in power, what is clear -- we have condemned those actions repeatedly. And my statement, I think, very much stands for itself.
QUESTION: But, before, it was a hostage-taking incident and now you're saying, in effect --
MR. REEKER: Matt, I'm not going to argue it with you. If you look at the record of the statements we've put out and what we've discussed from here, we have -- there still is a hostage-taking incident. What I'm saying is that there is an unconstitutional change of government taking place. Nothing is clear, nothing is final, and what we want to see is a resolution of the hostage-taking and of the change in government to be constitutional and to have that process in place.
QUESTION: For the last two weeks, you haven't been prepared to go and say that an unconstitutional change in government is taking place.
MR. REEKER: I think I referred repeatedly to our desire to return to a constitutional process there. I mean, endlessly yesterday and the day before.
QUESTION: So there's nothing new about the statement today than what you said in the past?
MR. REEKER: I'll let you make that judgment, Matt. The statement stands for itself. We've gone through it. I will put it out in written form if that will help you in any way to read what we're saying.
QUESTION: Let me put it this way. Could you say that your hopes are kind of -- that this hostage situation and all the constitutional goings-on might be resolved and everybody might step back from the brink have diminished over the days, and now you've decided that you have to act?
MR. REEKER: I think we've been making our statements very clear all along; that there is a situation in flux; there was no certainty about it. There is still no certainty about it. What we've been very clear about is that hostages should be released -- there is no excuse for hostage-holding -- and that there should be a return to constitutional rule.
What I'm putting out for you is a formal statement, similar to the one we put out Monday, but again, giving you exactly where we stand on the situation in Fiji right now, indicating that we look to Fiji to preserve a multiethnic democracy, and we call on the return to constitutional rule.
QUESTION: Not to belabor the point --
MR. REEKER: No. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The difference between Monday and today is that only now is the State Department saying that you're considering a range of steps.
MR. REEKER: I don't believe that's the case. If you go back to the transcripts, I think we talked about the implications that this might have for Fiji and its international standing and ours. I recall discussing with another --
QUESTION: But you didn't spell it out.
MR. REEKER: And I don't believe we spelled that out now either. It's premature. But we are considering -- it's in the statement that you'll get in written form, that we're considering a range of steps in consultation with our allies and other nations in the region, and in the international community, and these steps could have significant impact on Fiji's standing in the international community, and on their contacts and outside assistance for Fiji.
QUESTION: Could we move from Fiji to Fujimori? (Laughter.)
MR. REEKER: Is there any last -- yes, Rebecca?
QUESTION: If amnesty is a solution for getting the hostages freed, why are you rejecting it?
MR. REEKER: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: If offering Speight amnesty is one way that they may be able to negotiate an end to the hostage crisis.
MR. REEKER: I don't believe I rejected that. I noted that that was something that was being offered to him and his followers, and noted that it's uncertain when democracy is going to return to Fiji.
QUESTION: So amnesty is not something that the State Department is rejecting?
MR. REEKER: I'm not aware of the situation, other than to say that we want the hostage situation ended. We're not involved in ending the hostage situation. Speight should listen to us, and everybody else, including the people in Fiji, and end this hostage situation immediately and unconditionally. I did use the word "unconditional" several times.
QUESTION: So, can I ask you again, is amnesty something that's acceptable?
MR. REEKER: Can I say again, we want to see the hostage situation ended immediately and unconditionally. Any more Fiji questions?
QUESTION: Let me just clarify something. Are you saying that Fiji has not reached the stage yet at which it would be ineligible for US foreign assistance?
MR. REEKER: That would be correct, because we see an uncertain situation there and can't make any clear determinations of what's happening. But what is clear is that an unconstitutional change of government is taking place. Again, this is in a continuum, and because of this we are considering a range of steps, which obviously we've been looking at over a period of days as this has unfolded. After consultations with other nations, and depending on the outcome of the situation there, we will pursue those steps further.
QUESTION: Can you address the situation of US contacts there, how many people are still at the Embassy, roughly speaking, or specifically if you have a number, and what kind of contact, if any, has the US Ambassador had with any of the participants?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any details on that for you. Our US Ambassador remains there with a core emergency staff. Dependents have largely withdrawn. As you know, we went to an authorized departure status when we issued a travel warning for Fiji. So I don't have details for you on talks. Our Ambassador is reporting regularly here, and is obviously in touch with colleges in Fiji and with representatives of other countries, as I said.
QUESTION: Can you say whether the Ambassador's been in touch with anybody inside the parliament building?
MR. REEKER: I don't have facts on that information. I don't believe the people in the parliament are in regular contact with the outside world.
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