New Zealand rejects Fiji charge of undiplomatic behaviour

New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully rejected on Wednesday accusations that the country's top diplomat in Fiji, who has been expelled by the island state's military ruler, had broken the rules of diplomatic behaviour, dpa reported.

Fiji told New Zealand's Acting High Commissioner Caroline McDonald on Tuesday to leave the capital Suva in a week, saying she had ignored the military government, which seized power two years ago, and associated only with opposition politicians.

New Zealand retaliated immediately and gave her Fijian counterpart, Ponsami Chetty, the same marching orders from Wellington.

The tit-for-tat expulsions marked a new low in relations between the two countries which have deteriorated since military strongman Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama ousted Fiji's elected government in a bloodless coup in December 2006.

McDonald was the second senior New Zealand diplomat ordered out by Bainimarama, who expelled former high commissioner Michael Green, claiming similar interference in Fiji's domestic politics, in June last year.

McCully told Radio New Zealand, "The assertion that there has been any untoward activity - any engagement in domestic political activity - by our acting high commissioner is simply not true."

The catalyst for McDonald's expulsion was Wellington's refusal to issue a visa allowing the son of the Fiji president's secretary to return to New Zealand to finish his university studies.

New Zealand imposed a travel ban on Fiji officials and their families after Bainimarama came to power.

McCully said New Zealand would not respond to Bainimarama's "ultimatums and threats" by making an exception to the travel ban for the student.

Fiji's Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told Radio New Zealand that Australia's High Commissioner in Suva, James Batley, had also engaged in undiplomatic behaviour but was not being expelled.

He said McDonald's actions had been "contrary to the accepted international rules of diplomatic behaviour". The expulsion was an act against an individual, not a government, and Fiji would accept another diplomat as New Zealand's representative, he said.

Sayed-Khaiym claimed in a speech this week that the New Zealand High Commission in Suva had used its local staff to spy on Fiji nationals and that Wellington and the Australian capital Canberra were tapping Fiji telephones.

New Zealand, Australia, the European Union and the United States have all urged Bainimarama to hold fresh elections and restore democracy to Fiji.

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