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SLUG: 2-268741 Fiji uprising









INTRO: Authorities in Fiji say the army has regained control of barracks overrun earlier by rebel soldiers loyal to coup

leader George Speight. Residents report that heavy gunfire and explosions could be heard across the city as government troops stormed the base. At least two soldiers were killed during the exchanges. Phil Mercer has more from Sydney.

TEXT: An army spokesman, Major Howard Politini, said most of the rebel soldiers have been arrested. Troops led by Military Commander Frank Bainimarama launched an assault on the Queen Anne barracks in the capital, Suva, after senior

officers were taken hostage.

The group of rebel soldiers had earlier captured the barrack's armory and took their hostages during a fierce

gunfight with regular army units. In addition to the dead, 11 others were hurt - nine suffered gunshot wounds and two were hit by shrapnel.

Major Politini said three rebels were arrested at nearby Nausori Airport. He said one small group was still resisting the government forces. Clouds of smoke could be seen rising over the army headquarters.

The former Prime Minister and army commander Major-General Sitiveni Rabuka has been brought in as a negotiator. Mr. Rabuka told national radio he could only start talking with the remaining gunmen after a ceasefire was in place. He said he didn't know how many hostages were being held nor where they were being kept.

The insurgents are part of Fiji's elite Counter Revolutionary Warfare unit. They were key members of a force lead by a failed businessman, George Speight, that stormed Fiji's Parliament on May 19th this year. Two weeks ago they were in prison facing treason charges along with Mr. Speight and his close advisers. Those charges were dropped a week ago, and

the men were allowed to return to their jobs pending an investigation by a military board.

The founder of the counter terrorism unit, Ilisoni Ligairi, is still facing charges for treason and is being held with George Speight and his close advisers on a prison island off Suva. Appeal court judges are expected to rule in the next few weeks on the status of an immunity deal granted to Mr. Speight and his supporters last July by the military in return for the release of their hostages. The judges' ruling is expected to determine whether a treason trial will go ahead.

Schools across Suva were forced to close early Thursday as gunfire could be heard across the city. A night time curfew is now in force across the capital. (Signed)


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