Fiji Times front page: Monday, June 26, 2017
THE people of Fiji should not fear if they see the Bushmaster — an armoured infantry mobility vehicle — used by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) on the road.
RFMF chief of staff Colonel Jone Kalouniwai yesterday clarified the three Bushmasters that the military purchased from the Australian Government were not offensive weapons.
Col Kalouniwai’s explanation followed comments made by National Federation Party (NFP) leader Professor Biman Prasad that the military should stop intimidating the people by operating the Bushmasters on the streets.
Last Friday, social media went viral, clearly showing a Bushmaster being driven on Victoria Parade in Suva, gathering mixed reactions from members of the public.
Prof Prasad said pictures showed the Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) near the Fiji National Provident Fund Plaza, commonly known as Dolphins and the Suva City Council Library.
He said Defence Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola had told Parliament in a ministerial statement that 10 Bushmasters had been purchased from Australia.
“Seven were to be deployed in Golan Heights for our peacekeepers and three were being retained in Fiji to be used for training by the military personnel,” Prof Prasad said.
The NFP leader said any training using the Bushmasters should be confined within military establishments.
“They should be strictly used for training by those selected for peacekeeping duties, not by regular forces and driven through the streets.
“This is precisely what happened last Friday when a Bushmaster with registration number GQ 488 was being operated in the city.”
He said the operation raised serious questions on the neutrality of the armed forces.
“We clearly saw the military marching in most parts of the country 48 hours before the September 17, 2014 General Election under the pretext of training.
“This was during a time when there was a blackout enforced on political parties from making statements or campaigning before the day of the polls.
“We raised our concern with the Electoral Commission but our concerns were not addressed.
“Now the military is indulging in the same tactics at least a year away from the election. This must be condemned in the strongest manner.”
He said the military should not overstep its role despite its constitutional responsibility.
“Operating an Armoured Personnel Carrier in civilian areas when there is absolute peace and stability and no emergency is not guaranteeing peace and security but instilling fear and uncertainty in our people.
“It is sending a wrong signal. The military must understand that it is subservient to civilian rule.
“We ask, are the three Bushmasters for training or going to be operated in our towns, cities and densely populated areas to show force and intimidate our people?”
He said Fiji was not a war zone and peacekeeping training does not involve using Bushmasters in the full view of civilians and visitors to our country.
Col Kalouniwai said the soldiers were using the Bushmasters on the streets last Friday as it was Infantry Day.
“There is no law that prohibits Bushmasters using the roads in Fiji. There is nothing wrong with that,” he said.
Colonel Kalouniwai said the Bushmaster was a protected mobility vehicle used to carry troops – that’s all.
“They’re not an offensive weapon. There is nothing for them (public) to fear.
“We all know the political hype they (NFP) have and they’re just trying to make an issue out of this.
“We were just celebrating Infantry Day and the guys (soldiers) thought it would be a good thing for them to take it out, that’s all.”
He said the fact remained that the vehicles were bought to be used for peacekeeping and pivotal training and there are only three of them used for training purposes.
“There is no harm in us putting it out on the streets and just driving it around.”
Col Kalouniwai said Prof Prasad had wrong idea and wrong perception and should try and get more facts from his party’s president, Pio Tikoduadua, on what the Bushmaster really is.