Correcting myself: remember the 2000 RFMF Evans Board of Inquiry Report ? (28/3/2017)
Correcting myself: remember the 2000 RFMF Evans Board of Inquiry Report ? (28/3/2017)
My last post stated “Current SODELPA and Bainimarama Government (Fiji First Party) leaders might also wish to explain to the Fiji public why none of them are demanding a Commission of Inquiry into the 2000 coup and the 2000 mutiny”. This might imply that there has been no inquiry.
But how could I forget that there has been an official RFMF inquiry- headed by Lt. Col. J.B.N. Evans, with members board Major Aziz, Major Gucake, and Warrant Officer Maccomber.
This Evans Board of Inquiry (EBOI) was tasked with inquiring into the CRW Unit’s illegal takeover of Parliament and the holding of hostages between 19 May 2000 and 3 July 2000. The resulting Evans Board of Inquiry Report (EBOIR) are here on the website TruthforFiji, in two pdf files.
The larger piece (a massive 31 megabytes long) is here:
http://www.truthforfiji.com/uploads/8/4/2/3/8423704/1st_meridian_report_rfmf_opt2.pdf. The smaller piece with some missing pages from the first are here
The myths dispelled by the EBOI
While this Evans Report has been available on the Internet for years, I doubt if many have read it from beginning to end. It is not only incredibly long (more than a thousand pages) with some sections mixed up, but some of the text is in the Fijian language, with no translations in the Report.
Failure to publicize what the Report contains has allowed many myths to be created such as Thakur Ranjit Singh’s belief that Bainimarama saved Indo-Fijians in 2000 and should have a national holiday in his name, like Lord Rama and Diwali (Brisbane Indian Times).
But what a detailed reading of the official RFMF BOEIR makes clear (with direct quotes and detailed page numbers given here) that
- Bainimarama knew weeks in advance that the coup was about to occur but did nothing to stop it: he was not the savior of the Indo-Fijians in 2000.
- Many senior RFMF officers, never publicly identified, were fully supporting the 2000 coup.
- Only a few RFMF officers opposed the 2000 coup (never thanked either).
- Most RFMF officers sat on the fence waiting to see who would win.
- The EBOIR details the former commanders, chiefs, politicians and civilians who planned the coup.
All my quotes here are from the two pdf files on the Truthfor Fiji website, which comprise the EBOIR, one copy miraculously surviving to see the light of day.
Unfortunately, the pdf page numbers to do not follow the EBOIR page numbers because the photocopies of the Report were apparently mixed up when converting to pdf pages in the file given on the website.
I give the page references in pairs eg (p. xv/p. 16). The first number (p.xv) is the page number of the EBOIR itself (to be seen at the top of the page); the second is the page number of the pdf document which is at the bottom of the page (sometimes, but not always the page number in the top bar).
The missing BOI pages which are in the second pdf file, are labeled MBOIR with different page numberings (and contain the brief evidence of George Speight).
The full lists of the witnesses and their evidence are given on pdf pages 265 to 267.
Who did the coups?
No one doubts who led the 1987 coup (Rabuka) and who led the 2006 coup (Bainimarama).
However, there are many misconceptions about the leaders of the 2000 coup, wrongly labelled the “George Speight coup”, largely because of his prominence in the media when the real coup leaders chickened out at the last moment.
Sadly there has also been enormous propaganda about the role of Bainimarama in putting down the coup, while the secret roles of a few other army officers supporting the coup have never been brought out.
The 2000 coup is a horribly complex story of scheming politicians, chiefs, religious leaders, former coup leaders, former commanders and a small number of senior officers. Central to this story is the hidden underbelly of RFMF internal politics starting when Bainimarama, a naval officer, was made Commander.
There was internal unhappiness that a lower ranked and relatively inexperienced naval officer was being promoted above more senior, better qualified, and experienced officers who belonged to the land forces, which were the bulk of the RFMF. Who schemed to make this happen is another sad story about Fijian chiefs and former commanders.
The truth of the 2000 coup story, which is only sketched in this article, is stranger than any fiction. This post also gives glimpses of the terrible deterioration in the professionalism of the RFMF since the 1987 coup till now, which it will take a miracle to restore.
When we add to the story the massively increased influence of the dollar diplomacy of China and Indonesia in Fiji and Melanesian politics, I suspect that Australia, NZ and United States foreign policy advisers on the Pacific would be having many nightmares about this “security black hole” that has opened up in their backyard, largely because of their benign neglect. There is little prospect of them ever regaining their old influence over Pacific Island countries like Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and PNG who they continue to treat with disdain.
The bravery of the Evans Board of Inquiry and some officers
While it might be easy enough to conclude that the Evans Inquiry were too cowardly to make any real attempt to get at the truth, the reality is otherwise. The Board members were relatively junior people interviewing extremely senior officers who outranked them.
Question: Why did Bainimarama choose such relatively junior people when there were many reputable senior former officers available or the sensible option may have been to get senior army professionals from Australia and NZ?
The Board had the massive handicap that the Commander of the RFMF (Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama) refused to be interviewed, and was the only officer to so refuse.
Reading the EBOIR it is clear that several senior officers questioned refused to divulge any information even though they would have been expected to know a lot, while some waffled and some lied.
Nevertheless the Board members were brave enough to ensure that their honest questioning and views were reported in their final report (EBOIR).
Some officers remained true to their professional oaths, even though it meant going against the other senior officers and superiors.
The Conclusions of the Board
Who was responsible for the coup?
(p.vi/p.7) While Major Ligairi gave the order to the CRW soldiers to enter parliament “There is a possibility that there were other civilian and military personnel involved but because of the insistence that the inquiry be conducted quickly, the Board was unable to get enough evidence to provide all the names”.
Question: why was the Board not given enough time, by Commodore Bainimarama, to conduct a thorough inquiry, even though this was the most momentous event to occur under him as Commander?
“There had been a lot of meetings in private or over lunch’s and dinner’s, and gatherings of RFMF personnel with civilians where a possible coup or the overthrow of the Government was the major topic of discussion”.
Question: Who were these civilians and RFMF personnel?
“Exhibit F is an intelligence report that indicates that Lt Col Baledrokadroka was approached” by the planners of the coup.
Question: While Baledrokadroka has denied being approached, why was he also sent away before the coup?
“Also Lt Col Tarakinikini may have had prior knowledge because of the unusual phone call to WOI Bainimoli twice on the morning of 19 May prior to the coup”.
Question: Did Tarakinikini reveal to other officers that the coup was going to take place in two weeks?
(p.xix) “As to the Commander RFMF’s reaction to the events of May 19, the question cannot be answered because the Board was unable to interview him”.
Question: Why did Commodore Bainimarama refuse to be interviewed? Did he threaten to dismiss them if they tried to subpoena him?
(p. xix/p. 20) while “the RFMF as an institution never guaranteed its support” for the CRW soldiers “however certain decisions, actions and positions adopted by RFMF were interpreted by the 1FMS personnel and other RFMF personnel that the RFMF seemed to be in support” because of “logistics and administrative support that was provided”. (more on this below).
(p.xxiii/24) “2 weeks prior to 19 May 00, George Speight was lobbying for support in bid to overthrow Government”.
(p.xxiii/24) “17th May plan to assassinate Mahendra Chaudhry… Plan changed to coup d’etat … meeting with Iliesa Duvulocu, Major Joseva Savua, and some other persons. This latter meeting was held at Ratu Epenisa Cakobau’s residence”.
(p.xxiii/24) 18 May, Silatolu stores weapons at FAP Office inside Parliamentary Complex disguised as bags of yaqona and yams (evidence of parliamentary research officer Inoke Sikivou)
(p.xxiv/25) “0230 hours Lt Col Filipo Tarakinikini calls 1 FMS from home telephone number 383779 wanting to speak with WO1 Bainimoli” (CRW soldier in the coup group).
(p. xxvii/p.28) Bainimarama declares martial law and announced takeover of executive authority from President.
(p. xxx/p. 31) July 1: “Army Commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama says issues concerning Fijian interests and aspirations would be given priority in response to questions on the delay in the appointment of an Interim Government”
(p. xxx/p. 31) July 2: “Sitiveni Rabuka claims that there are other key players behind the illegal takeover of the Chaudhry Government”.
Question: Did some prominent businessmen who were being targeted by Mahendra Chaudhry through punitive taxes, provide funding for the coup planners?
(p. xxx/p. 31) July 4: “An Interim Cabinet headed by banker and former Senator Lasenia Qarase is sworn in and it will be tasked with preparing a draft terms of reference of a Constitution review and propose membership of a Constitution Commission”.
(p.xliii/p. 226) “It is evident that a lot of meetings and gatherings were held to discuss means and ways of either disrupting or taking over government”.
Various weeks prior to 19 May there were frequent meetings in the FAP Office. Names mentioned: Timoci Silatolu, Adi Litia Cakobau, Rakuita Vakalabure, George Speight, Major-General Rabuka, Col. Draunidalo, Cokanauto, Epenisa Cakobau,
What was the role of Ligairi (Head or Director of CRW or 1FMS))?
(p. xxxiv/p. 36) The CRW unit was started by Rabuka, and later renamed to 1st Fiji Meridian Squadron. It was “guided, trained and moulded” by Major Ilisoni Ligairi.
(p. xxxvi/p.37) “”1FMS was very much a private army, with its own agenda, answerable only to Commander RFMF”.
(p.213/p.280) The CRW unit answered directly to their OC, who in turned listened only to the Director (Ligairi), “Then you in turn your chain of command only receive one order only from Commander RFMF?” Answer: “Yes, that was right from the beginning, but as time goes on, the three top men in there, they are the people who know what we do..”.
(p. 275/p. 208) Ligairi said “I was asked to come back to the RFMF after I retired last year. I am 60, the Commander asked me to come for six months this year. I just put myself there as an advisor, I am not running the unit, this was my third week with RFMF”.
(p.xlv/p. 228) The Board asked “why was he [Major Ligairi] recalled when he had gone past the retirement age is an issue that needs to be clarified by Commd RFMF. What was his terms of employment? … With his background, training and experience, he would not have easily committed himself. It is therefore possible that he had prior knowledge of the conduct of the operation. The Board could not ascertain the role of Director, 1FMS, which Major Ligairi held.”
Military officers were surprised when Ligairi, who had been a Warrant Officer when he retired from the SAS, was promoted to being Major, without experience and qualifications.
(p.277/p.210) Question about an exercise done in Vanua Levu prior to 19th May takeover. The CRW soldiers also went to Valavala (Rabuka’s estate). Liqairi was aware that there had been army intelligence about a planned coup, and also stated “We were planning too a new government at that time”.
(p. xlvi/p. 229) “Prior to his recall, Major Ligairi was already a legend within the 1FMS. Members of the unit looked up to him as the ever-knowledgeable mentor, whose decisions and directives were never questioned. The Board is convinced that his presence alone was enough to quell doubts and convince other members of 1FMS of the greatness of the “cause” they were embarking on” when they took over Parliament and held Government members hostage.
(p. 274/p.207) Ligairi was asked “During this whole event did you have the impression that the RFMF was supporting the whole thing?”
Ligairi: “Yes, I still think they are supporting me… I expected at that time that the RFMF will not go against us”.
Question: In the end, did Ligairi affectionately called “Old Man” or “Qase” by his boys) sacrifice himself because he felt that he and his beloved CRW boys had been betrayed? Betrayed by whom?
The Board’s view on the role of the RFMF?
(p. li/p.234) “Undoubtedly, the legislations provides RFMF with the primary function of protecting the Constitution, the Commander-in-chief, the President of Fiji; the Government of the day… The RFMF in effect failed in its mission when it asked the President to step down and abrogated the constitution.”
(p. li/p.234) “The Board does not intend to question the decision concerning the abrogation of the Constitution and the “removal” of His Excellency, the President and the Government. Because this would have to be the subject of a National Inquiry”.
Question: Why has there never been a National Inquiry as recommended by the EBOI?
(p. liii to xvii/p.236 to p. 241) “The RFMF …. appeared to have supported them [the CRW takeover of parliament] through the following actions”:
The Board gave 19 (nineteen) reasons implicating several senior RFMF officers some of whom have never been charged:
- most members of the 1FMS and the Engineer units holding hostages were granted full pay
- rations and equipment kept getting supplied to CRW soldiers in parliament
- the CRW vehicles were refilled at QEB
- visited by Military Advisor Group.
- visits by Lt. Col Caucau
- visits by Lt. Col Tarakinikini indicating support for the coup, with seven reasons given by the Board including :
* telephone call to CRW soldiers early on morning of coup,
* briefing 1FMS members in the evening of 19 May that the RFMF supported the coup
* offer by coup makers, and alleged acceptance of position of Chief of Staff following gazette
* discussing with WO1 Ravai ensuring his support of 1FMS members,
* “reprimanding Capt. Stevens for stopping member to go and join other members in Parliament Complex,
* “telling Capt. Stevens in presence of Col Tuatoko at approximately 2300 hrs on Fri 19 May at the officers Mess that it was alright for the 1FMS to continue to send men ammunition and weapons down to those at Parliament”.
- visits to the Parliament by lt. Col. Buadromo
- visits by other RFMF officers and ranks, and Fijian ceremonies of support for the “cause”
- the inaction of the military to take firm action during the hostage crisis
- free passage of 1FMS and civilians to and from the complex.
- free passage of 1FMS and civilians to and from QEB
12 removal of the President and the abrogation of the Constitution
- amnesty given to Lt. Col. Volavola and others by Commander RFMF.
- acceptance of rebel soldiers back into RFMF and speech by Commander forgiving them
- numerous phone calls by all levels of RFMF to those in the parliamentary complex
- military apparently giving in to the George Speight group.
- free movement of Speight, Bukarau, Silatolu and others in and out of parliament and QEB
- military’s failure to cordon off the area around the Parliament.
- inability of the RFMF and the Police to stop the widespread looting.
What was the role of other senior RFMF Officers?
(p. 278/p. 211) Question asked of Ligairi: “do you think that some senior army officers from RFMF tried to use the situation to oust the current commander?”
Ligairi’s answer: “That question there I do not want to answer… I suspect that sort of thing…
(p. lxii/p.255) “Lt. Col. Tarakinikini [has been] implicated not only of knowing of the coup and of his possible involvement in it. He is also been implicated with concerting to assume leadership of RFMF, with him acting as chief of staff and Col. Vatu as the Commander. It was not surprising when questioned that both witnesses alluded to the fact that they would have assumed the new appointments if it was legally bestowed on them”.
(p. lxxviii/p. p.261) “Col. Vatu and Lt. Col. Tarakinikini’s actions prior to 19 May and after 19 May to be further investigated” and also that of Lt. Col. Caucau.
(p. 931/p. 639) Surprisingly brief evidence given by LT COL Jone Baledrokadroka who was the Chief Operations Officer prior to the coup :
On 11th of May Baledrokadroka briefed the Commander and all the senior officers as to the “contingency the RFMF was preparing should there be any disturbance arising from the march on the 19th”.
Commander left for Norway on the 12th, and Baledrokadroka left for Sinai on the 16th.
The clear evidence of Lt. Col Seruvakula (Commanding Officer 3FIR)
(pp. 938 to 949/pp. 646 to 657)
Seruvakula points out the enormous splits in the RFMF hierarchy, with some in clear support, many sitting on the fence, and only a few opposing it (including himself).
(p.939, p.947) Seruvakula told the Board he started receiving information from his intelligence operatives in the field as early as August 1999 that plans were afoot to destabilize the Chaudhry Government. He was passing the information to RFMF HQ but discovered, after they deliberately fed false information, that their intelligence information was being fed by some “mole” at HQ back to the coup plotters . Then he started informing Commander Bainimarama directly.
(p. 939/p.947) “the week before the coup, that was 24 hours before he left for Norway, I told him that the coup was in a week’s time from that day”.
Question: Why would the Commander of the RFMF go overseas for an unimportant meeting when he has been told that there was to be a coup to remove the lawful government? Was this a repeat of RFMF Commander Nailitikau going overseas just before Rabuka’s coup?
Seruvakula told the Evans Board that not only Ligairi was part of the group, so also seemed Rabuka.
Seruvakula told the Board that either he or his son were to be snatched by the coup plotters and that the Commander was to be snatched upon his return from Norway.
Bukarau and Silatolu asked Seruvakula to overthrow the Commander, which he refused.
(p. 942/p.950) that there was intelligence that Lt Col Tarakinikini and Lt Col Samu Raduva were involved with the group:
(p. 943/p.951) when Seruvakula set up checkpoints outside the 1FMS armoury to prevent arms from being taken out, Tarakinikini and Raduva questioned his soldiers.
(p. 943-4/p.951-2) When Seruvakula tried to stop food from going from QEB to the Parliament pointing out that his soldiers had dug out an MP5 rifle from a pot of curry, his superiors ordered him not to stop the food going in, claiming that the CRW were protecting the hostages (even though “Stevens and Tuivanuavou kept on insisting from the word ‘go’, no they were not protecting the hostages, they were part of George Speight’s game plan.
“That went on for a while, every time we try to put a block, the block is lifted for some reason or other… [counter order coming] from Land Force Headquarters… from Col Alfred Tuatoko”.
(p. 944, p. 952) Tarakinikini and Raduva told Seruvakula to look at the hostage situation as a plight of the indigenous Fijians “look at it as a way for the Fijian people”.
(p.946/p.954) Seruvakula told the board that “The hostage takers are enemies of the state or lawbreakers… [and it was] an act of treason”.
The deep splits in the Officer Ranks
(p. 946/p.954) “A good number of officers were sitting on the fence which was unfortunate because it trickled down to the soldiers and create a confusion among the troops… people just waiting to see whether George Speight will win it or Commander will win it and then they will take sides”.
(p. 948/p.656) Baledrokadroka saw four groups of officers at the HQ: “On one side was Baleinamau and Bainimoli [coup group], and in the middle were the new recruits, in the backgrounds were the old horses who would not be part of it and on one side were those who were on both sides of the scale”.
(p.949, p.657) “What I could not understand was that Baleinamau kept on going up to Headquarters and then getting support. Every time I go up and say something about Baleinamau for him to be stopped, I get a smack in the head and Baleinamau gets a kiss on the cheek literally. That was very frustrating…. He lied… Everyone else in Headquarter seemed to believe him except Lt. Col. Saubulinayau and myself”.
Question: Who in HQ was knocking Seruvakula on the head?
George Speight’s evience
(p.398, MBOIR p.30)
Question: Mr Speight, were you at any time assured the support of RFMF as an institution towards this cause?”
Speight answered: “Quite a number. Since we are not in the court room, their names shall remain untold at this point in time. But obviously two names come to mind because their names were subject of Decrees that we gazetted within the first 48 hours of being there” (Tarakinikini and Vatu).
(p.403, MBOIR p. 35) Questioned why he wanted to bring in Col. Vatu as Commander and Lt. Col Tarakinikini as Chief of Staff, George Speight replied:
“much of these discussions were taking place among the army people. I was not party to it and I was just waiting to take whatever recommendations that they put up”.
Postscript 1: Bainimarama after the 2000 coup and mutiny
- Commodore Bainimarama (with several others) asked his Commander in Chief and President (Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara) to “step aside”.
- Bainimarama filed an affidavit in the Chandrika Prasad case that he had abrogated the 1997 Constitution and taken Executive Authority (until judged otherwise by Justice Anthony Gates)?
- Bainimarama attempted even in 2000 to become Prime Minister.
- Following the ending of the hostage crisis, Bainimarama did not return the lawfully elected Chaudhry Government to power, but Qarase’s all-Fijian Interim Government,.
- Only some coup plotters and CRW soldiers were arrested jailed.
- The CRW 2000 mutiny against Bainimarama killed a number of innocent soldiers, who were not “loyalist” (as claimed by Bainimarama) but happened to get in the way of the drunk CRW soldiers doing the mutiny.
- While only about 20 CRW soldiers were involved in the mutiny, some 80 were taken into custody and tortured, and 5 died.
- Bainimarama has never called for an inquiry into the 2000 mutiny, despite its cataclysmic nature in the history of the RFMF.
Post-script 2: Bainimarama 2000 to 2006
Qarase tried to replace Bainimarama as Commander but he refused to go;
Qarase tried to release from jail those convicted for supporting the mutiny;
Bainimarama got rid of all senior professional officers who opposed his intention to do a coup against Qarase.
Commissioner of Police (Andrew Hughes) is on record stating that the police were about to charge Bainimarama for alleged crimes associated with the 2000 mutiny;
Political leaders (like the FLP President Jokapeci Koroi) who encouraged Bainimarama to do the 2006 coup, the RFMF officers saw that many undividuals like Ratu Epeli Ganilau and Poseci Bune (FLP) were constantly visiting Bainimarama before the 2006 coup, and he was soon joined afterwards by the Leader of the FLP (Chaudhry) as well as many other prominent individuals and church leaders.
While Bainimarama claimed initially that he did the coup in order to weed out corruption, there has been no great evidence produced in the eights years since then.
There was no great evidence by 2006 either, that Bainimarama did the coup because he believed in multiracialism and the equality of all races.
Bainimarama’s transformation between 2006 and 2014 into a leader advocating the equality of all races and multiracialism, deserves another post involving John Samy and Archbishop Mataca (People’s Charter), Mahendra Chaudhry (momentarily), Aiyaz Khaiyum,, Graham Davis and Qorvis.
Post-script 3: Baledrokadroka’s PhD at ANU
Lt Col. Jone Baledrokadroka has apparently obtained his PhD at Australian National University, doing a thesis on the changing relationships between chiefs and their bati (military) in Fiji. His thesis is bound to be interesting and controversial, given that Baledrokadroka was himself an actor in the events of 2000.
Major Question and Headaches for RFMF
1.Given that so many senior RFMF officers knew that there were RFMF officers treasonously plotting the coups (of 1987, 2000 and 2006) why did the ethical officers not arrest the unethical ones? [Of course, it is virtually impossible for any military officer to to arrest their superior officers, in an institution where all are expected to obey their superior’s commands.]
2. How was a Commander able to demand that officers must swear total allegiance to him personally (and thereby effectively become “mercenaries” under his command) and not to the Commander in Chief (the President) and the lawfully elected Government?
3. Did blind obedience to superior officers over-ride their oaths of allegiance to the lawfully elected Government of the Day?
4. How can the RFMF which has been proven in 1987, 2000, and 2006 to be totally untrustworthy, be ever restored as a credible military institution which serves the elected government and not the people with guns?
5. Despite promises that no military officer would ever benefit from the coups, many have benefited enormously in incomes, wealth, status, from all the coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006. You can list these military officers.
6. For the record, can the Fiji public identify and thank all the RFMF officers who, on principle, resigned after the coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006, rather than follow their treasonous superiors?