Fiji's military ruler on Wednesday refused to buckle to demands that he hold democratic elections this year, saying he would stick to his own timetable even if it meant facing sanctions.
Commodore Frank Bainimarama also suggested that the leaders of the 16-member Pacific Island Forum who threatened to suspend Fiji from their bloc, which could mean losing aid money, that they had no right to do so.
"I have never come across a situation where a country gives an ultimatum to another country unless, of course, there is a declaration of war," Bainimarama told New Zealand's Radio Tarana on Wednesday.
There is no threat of violence by either side, but developments in the past two days have sharply increased tensions between Fiji and its neighbors as they try to force the military from power more than two years after a coup.
At a meeting in Papua New Guinea on Tuesday, forum leaders demanded Fiji's military regime hold elections by the end of the year or the country would be suspended from the regional grouping, which could block Fiji's access to aid money.
The leaders said Bainimarama must set the election date by May 1, and the military must promise to stay out of politics. Washington "strongly" endorsed the forum's position and urged "Fiji's interim government to move immediately to restore democracy and to hold free and fair elections by the end of this year," US State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said in a statement. Wood's statement did not mention the issue of aid to Fiji. Bainimarama, whose 2006 coup was his country's fourth since 1987, promised the regional forum in 2007 that he would call elections by this April _ then reneged.
He says he wants to reform electoral laws and change the constitution to remove discrimination against Fiji's large ethnic-Indian minority. He told troops on Monday the reforms would come before elections _ even if the process took 10 years. "It is going to be a long wait," Bainimarama said. "We have already given our explanation, right now I don't think we need to explain any more."