Friday, January 30, 2015

MILITARY COOPERATION WITH THE RFMF

The Government is to be applauded for its decision to restore military ties with the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.   Those ties were rightly broken by Prime Minister Helen Clark  back in 2006 at the time of the third coup which saw the military head, Frank Bainimarama, installed as Prime Mister over the ousted Laisenia Qarase.   

The situation changed with Fiji's return to a parliamentary democracy following the September 2014 election which saw Bainimarama's Fiji First Party win with close on 60% of the vote against a turnout of 84%.   The elections were generally considered to have been free and fair.

New Zealand has a long history of military involvement with Fiji stretching back to 1941 and maintained a substantial presence in that country with 5 Sqn RNZAF operating Short Sunderland MR5 aircraft based at  Lauthala Bay through until 1968.   1 Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment, which served in Malaya from 1952 through until 1956 during the 'Emergency', contained a number of New Zealand officers and, as late as 1967, during my first tour to Malaysia we had a Fijian officer attached to our battalion.   Fijian officers (and other ranks) regularly trained in New Zealand and indeed, one of my fellow students on the Grade 2 Staff and Tactics (Staff College selection) course was Sitiveni Rabuka best known as the driving force behind the two military coups that shook Fiji in 1987.   Up until the early 1980s the RFMF was commanded by a succession of New Zealand officers the last one being Colonel (later Brigadier) Ian Thorpe.

In the 1970s and 1980s the RFMF was a formidable force, so much so that at the time of the 1987 coup and with Prime Minister David Lange pushing for the NZ military to be send in to help restore order, the advice tendered to him was that there was a good chance they would be be defeated by an army fighting in defence of their homeland.     In later years my assessment is that their capability has been downgraded.   They have been heavily involved in UN operations which has proved to be a valuable source of income for the Government.   However the tempo of those operations has revealed a number of deficiencies and failures.

As I said at the beginning, the decision of our Government to restore military ties with Fiji is to be welcomed.if for no other reason as a counter to the growing Chinese military involvement in the region.

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