New Zealand should convene talks on Tonga, Locke says

Green Party MP Keith Locke, just returned from a fact-finding mission to Tonga, wants New Zealand to host reconciliation talks between the Tongan Government and pro-democracy campaigners.

Mr Locke spent yesterday talking to the key political players, including the Prime Minister Feleti Sevele, two Cabinet Ministers and pro-democracy MPs Akilisi Pohiva and Clive Edwards – as well as to business, trade union and church leaders.

“Bitterness between the Tongan Government and the democracy movement is stalling urgently needed talks to address the underlying causes of the November 16 riot,” Mr Locke says.

“New Zealand should help the parties to go beyond blaming each other for the breakdown of law and order, and should provide a platform for them to engage in talking about a road map for democratic reform.

“We are at a dangerous point. The authorities seem to be putting criminal prosecution ahead of political dialogue. This raises the risk of another social explosion if, as anticipated by the government people I spoke to, charges are laid against leaders of the democracy movement.

“Democracy movement leaders told me that New Zealand should shoulder its responsibility to facilitate political dialogue, if only because it supported and financed the broadly based National Committee on Political Reform, whose report lies at the heart of the current crisis.

“The anger of the crowds outside Parliament in the lead-up to the November riot was largely generated by the Tongan Government’s rejection of it’s own appointed committee’s proposal for significant democratic reform. Essentially, this envisaged a Parliament of 17 people’s representatives and 9 nobles’ representatives, from which the Prime Minister and Cabinet would be selected.

“The presence of New Zealand troops to restore law and order, also carries with it a responsibility for the New Zealand Government to protest the reported brutality of Tongan troops towards some of the youths accused of being part of the riot.

“With New Zealand now engaged with Tonga on many levels, our priority should be to facilitate the democratic reform project, without which it will be difficult to maintain civil order and progress for the people,” Mr Locke says.