AUSTRALIA’S plan to fully restore diplomatic ties with Fiji appears to be on shaky ground, with Frank Bainimarama’s military regime so far failing to let the Gillard government’s choice for high commissioner into the country.
News of the diplomatic impasse has emerged the same day as a shocking new video allegedly depicting Fijian authorities beating and torturing prisoners.
Australia and Fiji agreed in July last year to exchange high commissioners, ending a three-year hiatus and signalling a significant thaw in a relationship that has been frosty since Commodore Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 coup.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr subsequently appointed career diplomat Margaret Twomey to the role and hoped she would begin last month. But the process appears to have stalled, with Fiji so far failing to approve Ms Twomey’s visa.
“We remain of the view she’s the best person and that she should be made the Australian High Commissioner to Fiji,” a spokesman for Senator Carr told AAP on Tuesday.
Fiji had not even nominated anyone to fill its high commission in Canberra, he said.
“Certainly, there seems to be no movement on this,” Senator Carr’s spokesman said.
“It now appears that that is suspended at their end.”
Fiji kicked out Australia’s last high commissioner, Kamlesh Arya, in 2009, accusing him of meddling in local politics.
When Senator Carr and and his Fijian counterpart Ratu Inoke Kubuabola met last year they agreed that restoring full ties would help ensure “open and effective” dialogue between the two nations.
Meanwhile, the nine minute video posted online shows two men screaming on the ground as they are repeatedly struck with batons.
Senator Carr’s spokesman described it as enormously concerning.
“It needs an investigation,” he said.
Amnesty International says while the video’s authenticity is yet to be verified it appears consistent with reports of Fijian military brutality against prisoners.
“The Fijian authorities must treat this shocking footage with the utmost seriousness and immediately initiate an independent investigation,” Amnesty spokesman Andrew Beswick said.
Comment is being sought from Fiji, where the police commissioner is believed to be preparing a statement about the incident.
Ms Twomey is a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, serving most recently as Australia’s ambassador to Russia. She previously served as ambassador to East Timor and deputy ambassador to Fiji.
Australia is the largest foreign investor in Fiji and more than 300,000 Australian tourists visit the Pacific nation every year.