Fiji criticises Australia of 'cocktail diplomacy', calls for sanctions relief

SUVA, Fiji (AFP) - Fiji accused Australia on Wednesday of engaging in "cocktail diplomacy", calling on Canberra to instead make meaningful reforms such as lifting sanctions against the coup-plagued South Pacific nation's military regime.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is due to start a two-day visit to Fiji on Friday as part of a Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) delegation examining how the regime's plans to hold elections in September this year are progressing.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said travel sanctions introduced by Canberra continued to restrict the ability of Fijian officials to visit Australia even when they were on legitimate business with no political implications.

Sayed-Khaiyum said he would complain to Bishop about the restrictions, which were imposed in 2009 when ruling military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama reneged on a pledge to hold elections after seizing power in a coup three years earlier.

"The reality is that Fiji is on its way to having elections and to still hold out on those types of measures is an abomination," he told the FijiVillage news website.

He said Australia had recently made overtures "about how we're supposed to be best mates again" but it refused to address fundamental issues such as the sanctions.

Sayed-Khaiyum was apparently referring to the Australian High Commission's decision last month to invite leading members of the regime to a function celebrating Australia Day for the first time since they took control in 2006.

At the time, Fiji's public broadcaster quoted Acting High Commissioner Glenn Miles as saying the invitation showed Canberra was enhancing its engagement with Fiji.

"(But) there's been no real rolling back of the so-called stance that they've had in place for a long period of time," Sayed-Khaiyum said.

"These are some of the issues that need to be put on the table. There's a lot of people getting invited to cocktails etc but cocktails do not mean that all the issues are being addressed. We're not actually hanging out to be invited to cocktails." When the last PIF delegation visited Fiji in April 2013 it stressed concerns about some of the regime's actions and emphasised that elections must be free and fair.

Bainimarama has announced he plans to run in the September polls and will stand down as military leader at the end of this month so he is eligible to be a candidate.

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