A photo of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has triggered online jokes about the pair discussing the whereabout of Lieutenant-Colonel Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara.
Mara took refuge in Tonga after he was accused of trying to overthrow the Bainimarama government eight years ago.
The photo also featured the PNG Prime Minister James Marape.
It is believed it was taken this week in Tuvalu during the Pacific Islands Forum 2019 and was posted to Facebook.
The joke has attracted other comments with one saying that Mara not only felt at home in Tonga, but had also come into control of “our lands.”
Lt Colonel Mara, who was commander of the Third Fiji Infantry Regiment, was accused in 2011 of plotting the overthrow of the Bainimarama government. He was effectively the second most powerful man in Fiji after Bainimarama.
Mara and his colleague Brigadier General Pita Diriti were arrested and accused of mutiny and sedition against Bainimarama.
Diriti was sentenced in 2013 to five years’ imprisonment.
While on bail, Mara’s family allegedly contacted their royal cousins in Tonga.
In May 2011 the Tongan Naval boat Savea, secretly picked up Mara south of Ono-i-Lau and took him to Nuku’alofa.
The rescue plunged the two neighbouring countries into crisis.
At the time, Bainimarama urged the kingdom to return Mara to Fiji.
He accused Tongan authorities of conspiring to snatch Mara away from his country.
The then Communication Advisor for the Prime Minister, ‘Ahongalu Fusimalohi, said Mara had been granted a Tongan passport.
He is now under the protection of the king of Tonga.
Ratu Mara in Tonga
In 2013 the Fiji Sun reported that Mara had become private secretary to King Tupou VI.
It also said Princess Pilolevu had given him the island of Makaha’a which he was developing for eco-tourism.
Mara later denied the report.
Veteran Pacific affairs reporter Micheal Field said Mara was told to keep a low profile politically.
According to various sources Mara has been employed by the king as his royal real estate agent.
A letter purporting to show a message to a tenant at the king’s estate of Pea, seen by Kaniva news this week, appeared to have been signed by Mara. Kaniva news could not confirm the authenticity of the letter.
It was written in Tongan on 26 April 2018 and was sent on what appeared to be the palace’s official letterhead.
PM Pōhiva at Pacific leaders’ meeting in Tuvalu
Leaders of Forum member states are meeting in Tuvalu this week, with Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva leading the Tongan delegation.
Radio New Zealand has reported that Indonesia has complained to the Forum secretariat over West Papuan leader Benny Wenda’s participation at the summit.
As the chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, Benny Wenda has been an active lobbyist for greater regional representation for his people.
Vanuatu, the key regional supporter of Papuan aims for independence from Indonesia, has included Mr Wenda and other Liberation Movement representatives in its forum delegation.
Detik News reports a spokesman for Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry saying it has lodged a protest with the Forum secretariat.
He said that by allowing Mr Wenda, with his separatist aims, to participate in the summit, the Forum was not showing neutrality on the Papua issue.
Eager to grow connections in the Pacific, Jakarta says it has no desire to talk with unfriendly countries, but rather those that seek economic development co-operation.
Last month West Papuan human rights activist Rosa Moiwend has asked Tonga to continue its support for her people’s struggle for independence.
In 2015 Hon. Pōhiva called on the United Nations to help West Papua, whose people have suffered under a brutal Indonesian occupation for nearly 60 years.
The main points
- A photo of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has caused a joke with a Tongan poster saying they discussed the whereabout of Bainimarama’s failed mutiny accused Lieutenant-Colonel Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara.
- Mara was accused in 2011 of plotting the overthrow of the Bainimarama government before he fled to Tonga on a Tongan navy vessel.
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