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More news from Fiji

Posted on: May 23, 2000 1:07 PM
Related Categories: New Zealand

From David, Jenny and Joshua Willsher at the Pacific Theological College, Suva, Fiji

Monday evening 22 May

The Coup

[Anglican Media Sydney] We found out about the coup almost before anyone else as our principal's brother is the prime minster's personal body guard. He rang the principal from parliament on Friday about 11 AM to tell him that there had been a coup. We were in a Masters seminar when the principal came to tell us. All classes and meetings were then cancelled for the rest of the day. I spent Friday afternoon on the internet sending and receiving messages from around the world, as I had the only working internet connection in the college.

The phone system was so clogged that no one could use phones and the mobile network crashed, but the internet (for me at least) kept working with only occasional hiccups. On Friday night we felt we were in a relatively safe position. The college is literally right next door to parliament house. We can see its roof from our back yard as our house is up the parliament end of the college compound.

Bear in mind that the college has no fences. All that separates us from the parliamentary buildings is a bit of jungle/scrub a couple of hundred metres wide. As looters ran riot in Suva we were in the secure zone the police had set up around the parliament area. There was no trouble here so we had a tense, but quiet night. There were police road blocks on all the roads in our area.

Since then ...

Saturday saw some of the facts about the so-called coup coming out. This was a very different coup from that of 1987, although some of the issues that had sparked it are the same. It has to do with ethnic conflict, but as much to do with inter "tribal" conflict between ethnic Fijians. As a state of emergency was declared it became obvious that we would be here for a while so people began to take stock of supplies of food, gas etc. The college obtained a pass to enable the college bus to go on a shopping trip for basic food items. By the evening things were calm in Suva and we hoped for a resolution to the hostage situation (as it was now being called).

Sunday we couldn't go out to church (we usually attend the cathedral in Suva) so we had some very serious praying to do at the college. I hoped the police on the road block down the corner enjoyed our singing. The afternoon Jenny and I spent looking after a contingent of kids of the staff at our place and the house next door occupied by a German couple. The people here are wonderful and the kids terrific. Joshua has made some good friends already.

Our present situation

Today, Monday our situation is changed and things are more serious and tense. It is clear that we are now in a situation of some potential danger.

Our safe haven is now turned against us by the fact that any major incident such as a violent confrontation or riot could easily spill over into our compound from next door. A range of meetings were held and strategies put in place for improved security (especially in terms of watching the kids and general vigilance around the grounds) and an evacuation plan was devised and prepared for.

The college organised a food delivery from one of the big supermarket warehouses today. Unfortunately, because of a demonstration in Suva they couldn't get through the city to deliver it to us. They will try again tomorrow.

We have been in contact with the Australian consulate. They know we are here and what we plan to do if we have to leave in a hurry. We have food for the rest of the week, gas and and internet connection! We could do with some eggs, and the bananas have run out (the ones in our garden aren't ripe enough to eat yet). Our phones are working, intermittently.

For now we just stay at home, listen to the radio, secure our house as best we can, remain vigilant, pray and wait. Tomorrow the Great Council of Chiefs meet. This will be the decisive event in the whole affair as it now unfolds.

The situation at present is a stalemate. Please pray for the 250+ people (including 80+ children) stuck (although not trapped) here at Pacific Theological College. The rest of Fiji is relatively calm, although the state of emergency and curfew are nation wide. There was some violence and destruction of schools in other centres over the weekend.

The police seem to be in control across the country now. We will have to decide tomorrow whether to stay or leave. As you can imagine, getting all these people out will be a major logistical effort. One good thing is that the buses will be running again in Suva tomorrow. We will sleep tonight, 'though not soundly. Life is good and tomorrow is a new day. We live in hope.

David, Jenny & Joshua Willsher

The Rev David and the Rev Jenny Willsher from the Diocese of Newcastle New South Wales, are working at the Pacific Theological College, Suva, Fiji