Fate of Fiji Hostages Hangs on Meeting

Fiji's military government and coup leaders were meeting in Suva on Thursday in the hope of signing an accord for the release of 31 political hostages, including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

"We are hoping to get the hostages released as soon as possible, although I cannot say exactly when," military spokesman Captain Eroni Volovola said.

But relatives of the hostages, who have been held inside Suva's parliamentary complex for 35 days following a coup, were not confident their loved ones would be freed on Thursday.

"All we can do is just hope and pray and try and stay optimistic," said Ben Padarath, whose mother Lavenia Padarath, the minister for education, is being held hostage.

Family sources had said earlier they believed the hostages may be freed around 1:30 p.m. local time Thursday (0130GMT) when an official signing of an accord was anticipated.

"This is not the first time (our hopes have been dashed)," said Joana Bale, wife of hostage Manoa Bale.

"We will not believe it until we hear it. I don't want to believe anybody just yet. I have prepared my mind not to be optimistic until they are released today," she said.

A team of psychologists and medical doctors have gathered in Suva to deal with the hostages once they are released, said the military's chief medical officer, Major Epeli Nailatikau.

New Zealand stress consultant Tony Taylor, in Suva to assist the hostages, said the hostages had been in a "state of dependence and fear" and would need trauma counselling.

Taylor said Fiji was a deeply religious nation, which would have helped the hostages during their ordeal.

"This particular group has immeasurable strength from philosophy and from religion...," Taylor told reporters.

Rebel leader George Speight and his gunmen stormed parliament on May 19, overthrew the government in the name of indigenous Fijian rights and took the country's first ethnic Indian prime minister hostage. Fiji's military declared martial law on May 29 to stop looting and violence in the capital Suva.

The military has said it plans to rule for three months and then create an interim government which would work towards fresh elections within two years.

The accord expected between rebels and the military is believed to include the release of the hostages, return of weapons seized by the rebels from an army arsenal, amnesty for rebel leader Speight and his core group of supporters, and the role of the military during an interim civilian government.

However the accord may not end Fiji's political woes as it is unclear what Chaudhry will do upon his release.

The former trade union leader, who was jailed as a member of a Fijian government overthrown in a 1987 coup, is reknowned for his fiery stubbornness and may reject the accord and declare his government intact.

People's Daily Online --- http://www.peopledaily.com.cn/english/