WELLINGTON, 28 AUGUST 2017 (NEWSHUB) — New Zealand SAS troops currently in Tonga are going to be pulled out as soon as possible, Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee and Defence Minister Mark Mitchell say, as the country dissolves into political turmoil.
King George Tupou VI dismissed Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva and dissolved parliament Thursday in an unprecedented move.
A group of New Zealand SAS troops were in Tonga or a jungle training exercise at the time, but they’re now being withdrawn so the country can have some “clear air”, Brownlee said.
“Tonga is clearly in a process of political transition and its best we leave them to manage that without the added complication of a military training exercise going on,” he said.
“King Tupou VI has exercised his constitutional right to dissolve Parliament and we look forward to learning more in the days ahead about Tonga’s plans for governance ahead of November’s elections.”
The training exercise was a joint effort with Tonga and is an annual exercise, Mitchell said.
Rather than being cancelled, it’ll be rescheduled for a “more suitable time in the future”.
“The relationship between the NZ Defence Force and the Royal Tongan Defence Force remains strong,” Mitchell said.
In a statement on Friday, New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it’s monitoring the situation and hopes the situation in Tonga will remain calm.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee says he is keeping a close eye on developments in Tonga as the country spirals into political turmoil.
The move, made after a concerted effort by the country’s Nobles to push Pohiva out, has left the fledgling democracy in political turmoil.
“We are assessing as to whether this is an appropriately constitutional move from the King of Tonga – and at first glance, it looks like it is,” he said.
“It’s probably most significant that an election has been set down for November 16, meaning that the democracy in Tonga is likely to endure.”
Brownlee says it’s too early to say whether New Zealand will have any peace-keeping role in the lead up to the election.
However, he says they will provide assistance to the Pacific Island nation in other ways.
“We obviously want to assist the Tongan electoral commission with anything they might need to ensure they have as efficient and fair and free election as they can.”
The decision to remove Pohiva – the first commoner to be elected as Prime Minister – from his post came as a surprise to many.
But his leadership has been dogged by claims of nepotism, incompetence, and financial mismanagement, including appointing his son as his private secretary.
A long time pro-democracy campaigner, Pohiva also faced stern criticism for cancelling the Pacific Games, which Tonga was to host in 2019…. PACNEWS [/restrict]