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Methodists in Fiji condemn coup, hostage-taking

6/23/2000 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By United Methodist News Service

Methodist leaders have been actively trying to resolve Fiji's hostage crisis, which appeared to be nearing an end on June 23.

In a statement publicly released on June 15, the Methodist Church in Fiji explained why it supported the military government and condemned what it considered the "terrorist-type" activity of the George Speight Group. Speight, a civilian, attempted a political coup with a small group of soldiers, and they have been holding 31 political hostages in the nation's parliament in Suva since May 19.

CNN reported on June 23 that military rulers of the Pacific island group and the Speight group had reached an agreement that could lead to the release of the hostages, including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaundhry. Military leaders assumed government control in the days following Speight's action. The agreement is expected to be signed June 24.

Speight, an indigenous Fijian, has said he was reacting against domination by the minority Indian population, which makes up 44 percent of the nation's estimated 813,000 population. Chaundhry was the first ethnic Indian prime minister.

Methodists in Fiji issued the statement to explain to the church's 250,000 members and the public why they had chosen to side with the interim military government.

While the church has prayed on behalf of the George Speight Group and maintains contact "in matters relating to ongoing pastoral care and counseling," it said it does not support "any terrorist-type activity," such as holding hostages at gunpoint.

A delegation of the standing committee of the Methodist Church in Fiji visited Speight and his comrades on June 2 and 9, "pleading with them to release the hostages at once, return all the arms and ammunition to the Army, take up the amnesty offer and join in the civil dialogue for reshaping our united destiny."

The church is supporting the interim military government because of "the urgent need to restore law and order since the violent and destructive events of, and since, May 19." The statement mentioned several examples of violence by mobs and "armed thugs," and added that the George Speight Group is not capable of controlling the violence and criminal activities.

"The church invariably believes that the Republic of Fiji military forces is the only legitimate institution capable of restoring law and order under the prevailing circumstances," the statement said.

Methodists asked the interim military government to restore peace, order and good government, protect life and property, restore normalcy and bring a quick return to democratic rule.

The church statement noted that the goals of Speight's group include removing the president, making a new Constitution guaranteeing indigenous rule and being granted amnesty. The Methodists believe the interim government has assured that the goals will be met.

Other churches in Fiji, including the Seventh-day Adventists and a group of 12 evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic churches, placed newspaper advertisements speaking against the civilian coup. The World Council of Churches also made public a pastoral letter, strongly condemning the armed intervention and supporting "the commitment of the churches in Fiji to maintain an egalitarian and tolerant society."

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