- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Fiji's new image

If he were a travel agent, Fiji Ambassador Anare Jale would know exactly how to promote his island nation of sun-kissed beaches and lush rain forests where English is spoken everywhere.

However, he being a dipomat and this being Washington, Mr. Jale knows he has to take a different approach.

Two years after a military coup landed the tropical paradise on the front pages of newspapers around the world, Fiji is trying to re-establish its democracy and reacquaint American tourists with the South Pacific nation.

Mr. Jale, who arrived here about two months ago, is making the rounds of official Washington to explain that "we are getting back to democracy."

Most observers declared last year's parliamentary elections free and fair, and the county now has a functioning government.

"I am trying to improve Fiji's image," Mr. Jale told Embassy Row. "We have to do a lot of explaining. It's fortunate that I arrived after the elections. It would have been more difficult otherwise.

"Tourism is a very sensitive industry," he said, explaining that most tourists in Fiji are from Australia. Only about 57,000 Americans visited last year."

Fiji is a peaceful country, he added.

"Out of all of the commotion," he said, referring to the coup, "fewer than 10 people were killed."

The coup exposed ethnic tensions between Fijians descended from immigrants from India and indigenous Fijians of Polynesian and Melanesian background. George Speight, an indigenous Fijian, overthrew Mahendra Chaudhry, the first Indo-Fijian prime minister. Speight held Mr. Chaudhry and most members of Parliament hostage for about eight weeks, when the military ended the siege. Speight was recently sentenced to death for treason.

Fiji has been out of the foreign news for months, an indication that things probably are going well there.

Mr. Jale said Fiji is proving itself to be an active partner in international affairs with detachments of peacekeepers in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina.

As the ambassador settles into his new position, he notes a certain irony in his government career. While this is his first ambassadorial position, it is actually a step down in the bureaucracy. Mr. Jale headed the entire civil service and now reports to the official who took his place.

However, the new job comes with other benefits.

"It's been a big experience to meet the most powerful person in the world," he said, referring to his first meeting with President Bush.

Mr. Jale took his family to the White House ceremony to present his diplomatic credentials.

"We were a bit worried about what to expect," Mr. Jale said of the president, "but he is a loving, caring person."

Small step in Sri Lanka

The U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka yesterday presented $100,000 worth of medical equipment to the main hospital in an area ravished by war with Tamil terrorists.

Ambassador Ashley Wills visited the Jaffna peninsula to deliver incubators, resuscitators and other hospital equipment.

"The Jaffna peninsula has pressing needs of increased resources, as it deals with the challenges resulting from years of conflict. I am happy to take a small step toward helping them meet those challenges," Mr. Wills said in a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in the capital Colombo.

His visit came as the government and Tamil Tiger guerrillas continued observing a cease-fire reached in negotiations on Saturday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said "talks about talks" will establish the outline of peace negotiations.

The United States declared the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam a terrorist organization in 1997.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday called Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando to express U.S. support for the peace talks, the Sri Lankan Embassy said.

Panama visit

A top Panamanian health official arrived in Washington yesterday to join a forum at the Pan-American Health Organization.

Health Minister Fernando Garcia today will participate in a discussion at the second meeting of the Commission on Food Safety.

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