Annual conference of Fijian Methodist Church cancelled

Published 05 August 2009  |  
Fijian Methodist Church leaders have stepped back and cancelled the annual conference all-together, but clarifying that their decision is not to condone the actions of the military government but they will seek an alternative channel to express its standing.

"After weeks of defiance against the interim government's ban on the conference the church's leaders have backed down and cancelled it," Radio New Zealand site reported Monday.

The Church has also informed Rewa provincial female Chief Ro Teimumu Kepa of the cancellation on Monday. Kepa was arrested along with nine members of the Methodist Church earlier this month for insisting the conference go ahead in Lomanikoro, the home of the province's high chief following the visit to the village of Lomanikoro by a delegation of Methodist Church executives.

The assistant general secretary, the Reverend Tevita Banivanua, says nine church leaders are currently before the courts and they feared the reaction if the conference was held as planned.

"When it comes to the people, the people would not take things lying down, that's our worry. If some of their own ministers from other parts of Fiji come to the conference and then were taken up we feared the worse," he said.

On 30 July, Banivanua and others met the interim government officials who allowed them to hold the conference but with "strict conditions" – it must not contain political agendas and two senior church leaders must be removed from the conference.

Fiji Methodist Church, the biggest and most powerful Church in Fiji counts 329,759 members out of a little less than a million Fijians estimated population, according to Aseri Vakaloloma, the defense counsel of church leaders who are out on bail.

So massive is the conference that according to FijiLive it took the people of Rewa two years to prepare for the hosting of the meeting locally known as 'Bose Ko Viti' which is the biggest on the Methodist Church calendar each year in August. It features a big choir competition and it is where the church raises a good deal of money for its operations and ongoing activities. Last year, the conference netted the church more than 1.6 million U.S. dollars.

The Church which boasts over 80 percent of the indigenous Fijians have had uneasy relationship with Fiji's military who seized power in a bloodless coup in December 2006. Its grip on the country was strengthened in May when President Josefa Iloilo abolished the constitution after a panel of senior judges ruled that the army government is illegal.

The 'Bose Ko Viti' was banned on 29 May after Church executive Reverend Manasa Lasaro called upon the interim government to restore democracy. The government said the meeting cannot be held unless the Church removes two leaders including Lasaro from the conference and also it must not contain any political agenda leading to series of failed meetings.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama heads an interim administration that, despite strong international objections, has since ruled out democratic elections before 2014. Bainimarama says he plans to stamp out official corruption and enhance the rights of Fiji's ethnic Indian minority before elections can be held.

Though they have cancelled the annual conference, the Church leaders also announced that they will soon hold an expanded committee meeting in Suva, the capital of Fiji.

Rev. Banivanua, who is not among having a case in the court told Radio New Zealand that the cancellation does not mean the Methodist Church accepts what the interim government is doing but will look at other ways of expressing its opinions.

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