Since he seized power last december, Fijian military leader Frank Bainimarama has regularly accused opponents of trying to destabilize his regime. Last week he went further. Police arrested 16 men, including New Zealand businessman Ballu Khan, a Fijian high chief, and the country's former intelligence chief, over an alleged plot to assassinate Bainimarama, Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, and two senior military officers.
Khan was savagely bashed after he was arrested at a roadblock on Nov. 3. In the police station, "he was hit in the face without warning," says his partner Agnes Bulatiko. "Then the room filled with officers punching him. It was terrifying." At press time Khan was in hospital with a reported broken jaw and ribs; he had not been charged. Police said he had resisted arrest. Eleven men had appeared in court on charges of incitement to mutiny and conspiracy to murder. In a statement, Bainimarama said there were "disgruntled groups" in Fiji who "have the potential to go to extremes" to undermine his government.
Among those arrested were six ex-soldiers from the special-forces Counter Revolutionary Warfare unit, elements of which were linked to both the 2000 coup against then-P.M. Chaudhry and a subsequent mutiny in which Bainimarama narrowly escaped assassination. Also arrested was ex-intelligence chief Col. Metuisela Mua, who served a jail term for his part in the 2000 events.
After the arrests, Fiji's police chief accused unnamed "lurking nations" of interfering in Fiji; Bainimarama later said there was no evidence Australia or New Zealand had any role in the alleged plot.