Fiji gropes for unity

FIJI, sadly, must now join the ranks of other racially or ethnically divided countries that seem unable to reach a sense of nationhood as embracing all citizens. In Northern Ireland, the divisions are religious and political; in Sri Lanka, religious and ethnic. Now, in Fiji - which, to thousands of tourists has appeared a relatively tranquil island-nation in the South Pacific east of Australia - ethnic and racial divisions have led to a military takeover. Many outside experts are concerned that, barring some type of permanent accommodation between the ethnic Fijian community and the Indian community, the nation could be in for a long period of instability.

Although the military coup took place last week, no genuine order, as of this writing, has yet been attained within Fiji. The ethnic Indian community, which makes up about 49 percent of Fiji's overall population, controls the economic sector. In the recent April 11 state election a government was put into power dominated, for the first time, by the Indian community. Ethnic Fijians had controlled the nation's politics since Fiji's independence from Britain in 1970. The coming to power of the Indian community triggered the ire of a faction within the 2,000 member military, controlled by the ethnic Fijian community. Ethnic Fijians make up about 47 percent of the population. The remainder is comprised of people of European and Asian origins.

Since its coup last week, the military has cracked down on the news media - both the domestic and foreign press - as well as kept the newly elected prime minister and his Cabinet under house arrest. Fiji's governor general, who has condemned the coup, is now seeking to work out a compromise with the military.

Even though last week's coup took place without any shots being fired, it would be a mistake to see this outcome as anything less than terribly unhappy for the people of Fiji. The sides are too polarized to be sanguine about the small nation's future. Western nations, for their part, must do all they can to counsel restraint, while reminding Fijians that there is far more to be gained in growing together as a united nation than in splintering into further division. The people of Fiji need only look at Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka for reminders of the toll that continuing division can take.

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