Report: Soldier, police officer killed in ambush

SUVA, Fiji (AP) - An armed gang opened fire on police and soldiers in an apparent ambush outside Fiji's capital Monday night, killing two and injuring three others, radio reports said.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Filipo Tarakinikini told local radio that the troops and police had been investigating a report of shots fired from a vehicle at ethnic Fijians in Naitasiri district, about six miles from Suva.

As the officers approached a parked vehicle in the region late on Monday, they were shot at from nearby jungle, triggering a brief gun battle.

''Two have died, a policeman and an army officer,'' Tarakinikini told FM96 radio.

Earlier Monday, the Fijian military had been hunting for about 100 rebels suspected of spreading terror in the wake of a May coup. Authorities were also searching for more than 25 military weapons that have been missing since the coup.

Fiji has been convulsed since George Speight and a rebel gang seized parliament on May 19 and took dozens of lawmakers hostage, only freeing the last of them after two months, once the military agreed to an amnesty for the rebels, discarded the multiracial constitution and ousted the government.

A school in the town of Sigatoka, about 70 miles east of the capital, Suva, was partially burned Sunday night in a suspected arson attack. There were also reports of livestock slaughtered in their fields outside Suva.

On the northern island of Vanua Levu, troops continued a separate search for about 100 rebels suspected of terrorizing ethnic Indians, torching houses, kidnapping people from the streets and taking over a military barracks.

Politini said it was now ''very, very quiet'' on the island.

Coup leader Speight and his inner circle of 12 supporters are in custody on an island off Suva. He has been charged with minor offenses related to the coup but could face treason charges that might bring him the death penalty.

During the two-month standoff, Speight said he had seized control of the government because ethnic Indian Fijians had too much power and threatened indigenous Fijian culture.

Ethnic Indian Fijians - whose ancestors were brought here in the 1870s by British colonialists as indentured laborers - make up 44 percent of the nation's 814,000 people and dominate business and commerce.

The hostage-taking cast Fiji into turmoil and brought international condemnation and sanctions.

Deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, in New Zealand to urge Wellington to bolster sanctions on Fiji if it does not quickly return to democracy, told the New Zealand Herald newspaper that he would testify against Speight if the rebel leader is charged with treason.

Chaudhry, the first prime minister from the ethnic Indian minority, was one of Speight's hostages.

''If the regime in Fiji does not move swiftly towards the return of democracy and constitutional rule, then sanctions may have to be escalated,'' Chaudhry told New Zealand's TV3 after meeting Prime Minister Helen Clark.

''The longer we delay, people will be suffering the kind of anarchy we have seen there in the past several weeks,'' he said.


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