Second and final part of an article detailing some lesser known aspects of Fijian history of the ’70s and ’80s. As I explained in part 1, most of the information came from a former intelligence officer (not a NZer) who lived in Fiji during those years.
After Timoci Bavadra’s Fiji Labour Party shock victory in 1987, Fiji plunged into turmoil.
One leading Taukei founder had previously been involved with the trade union left. After a trip to the Soviet Union, he switched to the “nationalist” cause. My contact claimed that until authorities were warned about him, there were plans afoot to blow up bridges around Suva and for Taukei members to torch the neighbouring Indian town of Nausori.
Bavadra anticipated an ethnic Fijian backlash. He especially feared a mutiny in the 95% ethnic Fijian dominated army.
Australian and NZ warships were present in Fiji waters around this time, also clearly sensing possible unrest. It was suspected that Bavadra was ready to call on Australia and NZ for help.
Rabuka, anticipating an FLP victory had gathered around him a small group of Army and Police officers. An exceptionally devout, born again Christian, the ethnic Fijian Rabuka, feared that his people would suffer under “Indian” rule.
He also feared that the Marxists of the FLP, would turn Fiji into a Soviet client state.
Rabuka mounted his first coup d’etat on May 14, 1987. A second coup on September 28 ended Fijian ties to the British crown and was followed by the proclamation of a republic on October 7.
There was a huge negative reaction around the Pacific and further afield, to Rabuka’s actions.
Released from custody after a few weeks, Bavadra toured the world looking for money and sympathy. He also complained that the CIA was behind the coup.
In December 1987, Rabuka returned power to civilian authorities and life began to return to normal.
In March 1988, NZ became the last country to restore diplomatic relations with Fiji.
The Abortive Counter Revolution
Bavadra again toured NZ that year, where he was hosted by the radical left, particularly Ken Douglas’s Socialist Unity Party.
In an interview with the NZ Herald, Bavadra spoke of an “Operation Sunrise” which he expected would return him to power.
On the 11th of April 1988, a shipment of Soviet arms, disguised with forged documents as “farm machinery” was unloaded at the port of Lautoka.
The next shipment was intercepted in Sydney, by Australian authorities. Two Fijian Indians were arrested.
The weapons, loaded in Yemen, included AK47s, hand and machine pistols, grenades, rocket launchers and heavy machine guns.
Australian police claimed that an Australian wide network of Fijian Indians were working to de-stabilise Fiji.
Twenty two people were arrested in Fiji for participating in the plot. Twenty one were ethnic Indians, while one was an ethnic Fijian. Several members of the Fiji Labour Party were questioned over the incident.
Some of those arrested lead police to arms caches and much of the first shipment was recovered.
Bavadra and his colleague, Mahendra Chaudhry threatened to call on their Australian and NZ union friends to boycott Fiji again.
At the end of July 1988, the suspected mastermind of the arms plot, Fijian businessman, Mohammed Rafik Kahan, was arrested in London. Fiji applied for Kahan’s extradition, but Britain refused to cooperate, because Fiji was no longer a member of the Commonwealth and eventually released him.
Bavadra died of cancer in November 1989.
Eventually the Fiji Labour Party recovered and was returned to government under Mahendra Chaudhry in 1999. It was deposed within a month, by businessman, George Speight, who established a Taukei dominated government.