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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06SUVA530 2006-12-03 21:41:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Suva
Cable title:  

TONGA AFTER THE FIRES: WHAT NEXT?

Tags:   ECON PGOV PHUM TN 
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PP RUEHPB
DE RUEHSV #0530/01 3372141
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 032141Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY SUVA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3498
INFO RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1412
RUEHPB/AMEMBASSY PORT MORESBY 1005
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 1193
RHHJJAA/JICPAC HONOLULU HI
RHMFISS/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 SUVA 000530 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/27/2016
TAGS: ECON PGOV PHUM TN
SUBJECT: TONGA AFTER THE FIRES: WHAT NEXT?

REF: A. WELLINGTON 930


B. SUVA 517 (AND PREVIOUS)

C. WELLINGTON 91O

D. 2006-11-23 2008Z IIR 6 927 0030 07

Classified By: Amb. Dinger. Reasons: Sec. 1.4 (b) and (d).



1. (C) Summary: Tonga's King, Prime Minister, and others are
demanding that those who looted and burned Nuku'alofa's
central business district November 16 be brought to justice.
At the same time, they have acknowledged that, while the
national dialogue on democratic reforms has stumbled, it must
go on, soon. Pro-democracy politicians, being accused by
Government of provoking supporters to riot, are condemning
the violence and seeking a return to talks. A key
pro-democracy figure is alleging government abuse of
emergency powers to pursue participants in the riot. In a
visit to Nuku'alofa, poloff found a severely damaged city
center, angry and confused politicians and business figures,
and a still shocked populace. Government ministries seek a
rapid return to normalcy. The high commissioners of
Australia and New Zealand expressed optimism that their
nations' security personnel, deployed to help restore order,
would withdraw as early as the first week in December. PM
Sevele suggested, given the Tonga Defense Services (TDS) now
major domestic role, that government is unlikely to make a
decision soon about Tonga's return to the coalition in Iraq.
TDS Commander Uta'atu reportedly is more hopeful. End
Summary.

Government: On the One Hand ...


--------------------------





2. (C) One week after looting and arson destroyed most of
Nuku'alofa's picturesque central business district, an
exhausted and emotional PM Feleti "Fred" Sevele told poloff
government's first priority is to restore law and order. He
expects the justice system to find and punish wrongdoers and
instigators. Sevele alleged pro-democracy activists,
including People's Representatives from Tonga's Parliament,
were to blame. They had whipped a thousands-strong crowd
into a mob in the days prior to the 16th. Sevele said their
rhetoric was highly inflammatory and, by the time government
met with the People's Representatives on the afternoon of the
16th, government felt seriously in danger. Sevele reported
leaders of the demonstrators threatened government, saying
the crowd would storm the Parliament if its demands for
speedier democratic reforms weren't met. Sevele said he and
a rump Cabinet of five ministers meeting with People's
Representatives Clive Edwards, Akilisi Pohiva and others were
frightened of the demonstrators' mood. During the meeting,
the crowd began to stone government buildings, including the
PM's office.



3. (C) Under such threat, Sevele signed a letter agreeing to
elections in January 2008 at which 21 members of Parliament
would be elected by the people and 9 by the nobles. In
return, Government required the leaders of the demonstration
to peacefully disperse the crowd. According to Pohiva, he
returned to the demonstration and sought to calm the
situation, declaring that demands for a popularly elected
majority in Parliament had been met. Media reports say he
triumphantly declared to the throng, "We've won." In fact,
by the time Sevele signed, the crowd was well out of control
and in the process of attacking its first target, the
supermarket owned by Sevele and operated by his daughter.
Sevele did not tell us the letter he signed was invalid, done
under duress. However, he said he told Edwards and Pohiva at
the time that "I can't sign for the Cabinet," not all of whom
were present. He also emphasized to us that his opponents
failed to uphold their part of the bargain. In any regard,
Sevele noted, no agreement of this sort would have validity
without parliamentary (and we note royal) approval.

and on the Other


--------------------------





4. (C) Despite Sevele's obvious anger about the circumstances
of the letter and the riot, he looks forward to a return to
normalcy and renewed political dialogue as soon as possible.
He said he does not expect the 30-day period of emergency
powers invoked on November 17 will have to be extended. As a
former businessman and pro-democracy People's MP, Sevele
lamented the severe and, in his view, wholly inexcusable
damage to Tonga's economy done by the rioters. He predicted
that thousands of people will lose jobs, and the nation faces
a monumental task of reconstruction. At the same time, he
sees an obligation on both sides to return to dialogue on
political reform. Sevele defended his October

SUVA 00000530 002 OF 003


counterproposal to the framework offered by the National
Committee for Political Reform (NCPR). Pro-democracy forces
accused Sevele of intentionally attempting to slow the reform
process and maintain the King's majority in parliament.
Striking a somewhat conciliatory tone, Sevele said his
"roadmap" was never meant to be other than one among several
proposals for a tripartite committee (three reps each from
the cabinet, People's Reps, and nobles) to consider.



5. (C) In a conciliatory Nov. 23 speech closing Parliament
for the year, King George Tupou V said the various reform
proposals "have the same ultimate aim -- a more democratic
form of parliament and government but appropriate for Tonga."
He suggested that differences are reconcilable, and he urged
MPs to use the six months until Parliament reconvenes in May
to seek consensus. In a letter to foreign development
partners, Finance Minister 'Utoikamanu echoed this sentiment,
stating: "Law and order depend on political stability and a
broad consensus on political process, if not on detailed
policies." Pohiva too struck a conciliatory tone, praising
the King's speech and echoing its call for swift justice for
those who rioted. In his discussions with us, Pohiva
appeared somewhat chastened by the riots. He denied any
direct culpability. In his view, Government's attempt to
delay implementing reforms was the root cause of the
confrontation that led to the riot. Clive Edwards, the
democracy movement's savvy lawyer, was still in attack mode
regarding government's actions on reform and its reactions to
the riot. Nonetheless, a close contact of Edwards says he
will shortly reach out to Government to seek further talks.

Possible Abuse of Emergency Powers


--------------------------





6. (C) Although Edwards is prepared to return to the table,
he is continuing criticism of Government. (Note: We do not
know if Edwards is aware that he, Pohiva, and several others
are on a list the Tonga Government forwarded to us seeking
denial of entry into the United States. No specific grounds
were given. We intend no action pending formal criminal
prosecution. End note.) Edwards told PolOff that the
Government is abusing the Emergency Powers Act proclaimed on
Nov. 17 to pursue alleged rioters. Edwards believes the Act
cannot apply to investigate past events. Edwards wrote to
Attorney General and Justice Minister Alisi Taumoepeau on
Nov. 23 accusing the government of, in effect, applying
martial law by using troops to assist police in post-riot law
enforcement. Edwards warned that Government must follow
normal police procedures. The AG has issued a statement
confirming that martial law has not been declared. Edwards
has alleged to the media that dozens of Tongans have
complained of being physically roughed up by overzealous army
troops and police, a charge the police and military have
rejected. Cameras caught many rioters in the act, and some
350 suspects have been arrested. We are told that police
found some houses full of stolen items, in cluding
refrigerators, A/C units, etc. Edwards told us of at least
one case in which the house of a suspected looter was
ransacked before the person arrived home. Allegedly, when
the suspect proved he owned the items that police had dumped
on the lawn, the police response was that they had the wrong
address anyway.

Up in Smoke


--------------------------





7. (C) A walking tour of the cordoned-off central business
district of Nuku'alofa left little doubt that the riot has
left a city on its knees. An early government estimate of 66
damaged business buildings, has been revised up to 143,
including 33 identified as owned by Chinese or naturalized
Chinese-Tongans. Within the core area, key business houses
were ransacked and/or burned. These include a hotel, two
banks, several department stores, restaurants, a new cinema
complex, major office blocks and various retail outlets. The
area remains off limits to the general public, a declared
crime scene, with access controlled by the TDS, assisted by a
handful of the Australian and New Zealand security personnel
who were invited to help restore order. Minister of Labour,
Commerce and Industries Lisiate 'Akolo reported that
Government is anxious to reduce the size of the cordoned-off
zone as soon as police forensic work is completed and
fire-weakened structures are secured.

TDS roles; effect on Iraq deployment?


--------------------------





8. (C) Many civil servants and others who work in the zone
and must pass through military checkpoints daily are critical

SUVA 00000530 003 OF 003


of the TDS presence and what they see as excessive and
heavy-handed searches and ID checks. The TDS is unaccustomed
to performing such duties, and Tongans have not experienced
this TDS role since fuel shortages in the 1970s. The police,
seen by most as having failed to prevent or adequately
respond to the riot, have not been involved in control of the
cordoned-off area. (Note: According to Australia's High
Commissioner to Tonga, Aussie police believe Tongan police
followed correct procedures in not confronting the far larger
number of rioters. End note.) Australia withdrew its 52-man
strong military contingent on November, while New Zealand
defense forces, numbering about 70, departed on December 2,
two weeks to the day after arriving. Australian police are
wrapping up work on identifying the remains of seven persons
found at one prominent arson site. With the TDS having taken
on a much bigger than normal domestic role, PM Sevele
suggested to poloff that, under current circumstances,
Government is not likely to decide soon on the question of
whether TDS troops can rejoin the coalition in Iraq. Per ref
D, TDS Commander Brigadier General Tau'aika Uta'atu has said
the TDS's high profile role in restoring order in the
aftermath of the riot will, in fact, increase the likelihood
that government will agree to the Iraq deployment.

Businesses Survey a Grim Picture


--------------------------





9. (C) Following the riot, Government's reconstruction
committee, headed by Finance Minister 'Utoikamanu, issued a
preliminary recovery and reconstruction plan for Nuku'alofa,
including a 24-page framework strategy for assisting the
business community. The report says 75% of businesses stated
their losses were not covered by insurance. Only 8
businesses reported coverage for civil unrest. A
self-assessment by the business sector puts the damage to
buildings at approximately USD 19 million and to stock and
inventories at about USD 30 million. These figures are
expected to rise. 'Utoikamanu told us Government is not yet
able to state its needs, but it is clear that Government does
not have the resources to finance the recovery alone. The
Minister said almost all of the damage was to private firms,
which are now seeking government help in the form of tax and
import-duty relief. The report put an initial estimate of
direct job losses at 678.

Comment


--------------------------





10. (C) Tongans' desire for a quick return to normalcy is
understandable. That needs to include a return to discussion
of political reforms, as the King wisely acknowledged. Such
discussion will be even more complicated than before. The
outpouring of public pressure generated by the pro-democracy
movement during the final session of Parliament, even before
the riot, reaffirmed that a large and very activist group is
very impatient for meaningful reform. The government's
attempt to postpone debate on the NCPR report and its
proposal for a "half step" solution that would leave control
of parliament in the King's hands were serious provocations
to those impatient activists.



11. (C) On the Government side, an understandable resentment
against those who fomented the riot is present. Government
allegations that pro-democracy leaders deliberately
instigated the riot would seem premature, pending results of
police investigations. If the pro-democracy leaders did
intend the riot, it is difficult for us to fathom how they
figured it would, in the end, advance their cause. And we
know from previous conversations with Pohiva, at least, that
he was actually rather satisfied with recent political
developments in Tonga. As the King has suggested, the coming
six months present Tonga's decision makers with an
opportunity to search for common political ground. Democracy
activists like Edwards and Pohiva may well press the
Government to honor PM Sevele's promise of a totally elected
Parliament in early 2008, albeit with 9 seats still reserved
for elected nobles. Sevele may well wish to reply that the
promise was tainted. As initial temperatures cool, one hopes
leaders from all sides will work cooperatively to find the
common ground.
DINGER