Fijian army retakes control of military barracks

SUVA, Fiji - Elite soldiers who apparently feared being drummed out of the army over a May coup seized Fiji's main military barracks Thursday and took hostages, but were flushed out by regular army troops in gun battles.

Eight people were killed, including five rebellious soldiers, and another 14 soldiers and eight civilians were injured, said a military spokesman, Maj. Howard Politini. Earlier reports had put the death toll at nine. The civilians were hit by stray bullets.

The mutiny began when 40 soldiers from the army's Counter Revolutionary Warfare unit seized the officers' mess at the barracks, took five officers hostage and demanded negotiations with top officers.

Troops loyal to interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase stormed into the barracks in an all-out attack, capturing an unspecified number of rebellious soldiers and freeing the five hostages, Politini told Fiji Radio.

Several of the rebellious soldiers escaped. Politini said 11 were captured and jailed and troops searched for as many as 15 more on Friday as Qarase's Cabinet held an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis.

Under a curfew imposed for the search, Suva was quiet, with downtown banks and business closed and in some cases boarded up. Schools were shut, buses were not running and Suva's airport was closed after reports some rebels were seen in the area.

The motives of the rebellious soldiers remained unclear, but speculation was that at least eight of them feared they would be kicked out of the army for their role in a May 19 coup in this Pacific island nation.

The coup, which toppled the government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, was masterminded by George Speight, who said he wanted to rein in the large ethnic Indian minority. Chaudhry was Fiji's first prime minister of ethnic Indian descent. Ethnic Indians control much of the island's commerce.

Speight was arrested after the coup and is imprisoned pending trial on treason charges that carry the death penalty.

Fiji, a nation of 320 islands about 2,250 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia, is ruled by a military-installed civilian government that has pledged to hold elections within two years but which also says it will reserve the top political jobs for indigenous Fijians.


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