Another bombshell has put Fiji in the headlines in Australia for all the wrong reasons – torture allegations against RFMF Colonel Penioni (Ben) Naliva, who has just been appointed deputy commander of the Australian Army’s 7th Brigade.
The story below – the lead in Tuesday’s Australian newspaper – will rock the defence and political establishments in Suva and Canberra, which had been hoping that Ben Naliva’s appointment would herald a new era of defence cooperation between the two countries. Instead, Naliva – and the RFMF – find themselves embroiled in accusations that the former right-hand man to Frank Bainimarama during the coup of 2006 carried out acts of torture.
Has Australia been too eager to accommodate Ben Naliva as part of its strategy to keep the RFMF on side at a time of increasing concern about China’s influence in the Pacific? Or did the Aussies give him a senior position in their army to get him out of Fiji because he was regarded as one of the officers most loyal to Frank Bainimarama who could have led an intervention to remove the Coalition government?
Read on for a story that has been covered in some detail by Victor Lal at Fijileaks but that The Australian’s Stephen Rice takes a lot further. So much so that it is bound to shake the foundations of the Aussie-Fiji “Vuvale Partnership” simply because the spectre of a Fijian military officer accused of torture commanding Australian troops will be inconceivable to most Australians.