Fiji hits out at 'high-handed' Australia in a diplomatic stand-off

SUVA (AFP) - Fiji's attorney-general on Wednesday accused Australia of treating the South Pacific nation in a "high-handed" manner in a stand-off over diplomatic representation.

Australia agreed to restore full diplomatic ties with Fiji's military regime last year after the two countries' top envoys were sent home in tit-for-tat expulsions in 2009.

However, Fiji has refused to endorse Australia's preferred choice for high commissioner - the equivalent of ambassador - career diplomat Margaret Twomey, and declined to issue her a visa so she can take up her post in Suva.

The situation has dragged on since the beginning of the year, prompting Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr to vent his frustration in Canberra this week.

"If Fiji doesn't want to receive an Australian high commissioner, that's their loss... Fiji is diminished by not having an Australian high commissioner there," he said.

Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said Fiji was simply exercising its rights as a sovereign nation to vet proposed diplomatic appointments.

"(Carr's) statement indicates, yet again, that Australia's attitude to Fiji is prescriptive and high-handed," he said in a statement.

"Rather than deal with Fiji as an equal, it expects our country to say 'yes' to everything Australia proposes."

The regime has given no reason for the delays that have held up Ms Twomey's appointment but the row has again strained relations between Canberra and Suva, which have been tense since the military seized power in a 2006 coup.

Canberra has led international criticism of military leader Voreqe Bainimarama and successfully pushed, along with New Zealand, for Fiji's suspension from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum.

Mr Bainimarama took control pledging to root out corruption and introduce a one-person, one-vote system intended to end entrenched racial inequalities in the nation of 860,000 but reneged on a promise to hold elections in 2009.

Instead, he tore up the constitution and introduced emergency laws that muzzled the media and banned public meetings, postponing elections until 2014.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said the regime was committed to staging free and fair elections in September next year and would welcome assistance from Australia.

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