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Australia, Fiji pave way for reciprocal Status of Forces Agreement

The regional partners have commenced negotiations for a reciprocal Status of Forces Agreement to facilitate greater military collaboration between the nations, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has announced.

The regional partners have commenced negotiations for a reciprocal Status of Forces Agreement to facilitate greater military collaboration between the nations, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has announced.

The defence ministers of Fiji and Australia met virtually earlier this week for their second annual meeting.

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Fijian Minister of Defence, National Security & Policing Inia Seruiratu and Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds have met for their second annual meeting, discussed the development of the nations’ bilateral relationship, noting collaborative efforts throughout 2020 in response to natural disasters and the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This year, Australia and Fiji have worked shoulder-to-shoulder in response to significant challenges in our region from COVID-19 to Tropical Cyclone Harold,” Minister Reynolds said.

“Fiji’s swift and welcome response in deploying the Bula Force to support Australia during the Black Summer Bushfires will never be forgotten.”

In a bid to further strengthen ties between the regional partners, the ministers opened negotiations for a reciprocal Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), aimed at facilitating exchanges, deployments, and exercises in Australian and Fijian jurisdictions.

“The deployment of Bula Force to Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST earlier this year reinforced the importance of being able to move quickly to support one another, when required,” Minister Seruiratu said.

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“A SOFA will facilitate the rapid deployment of our respective personnel to one another’s jurisdictions with the requisite legal protections.”

Australia has also agreed to fund the construction of the Maritime Essential Services Centre (MESC) in Fiji to enhance maritime cooperation in the region. 

“Australia is committed to funding both the design and construction of the MESC, which will incorporate the Republic of Fiji Navy Headquarters, the Fiji Maritime Surveillance and Rescue Coordination Centre, Coastal Radio and Fiji’s Navy Hydrographic Service,” Minister Reynolds said.

“The new Centre will greatly facilitate maritime security coordination within Fiji and throughout the region. Australia is proud to partner with the Fijian Government on this project.”

Minister Seruiratu welcomed Australia’s commitment to fund the development of the facility.  

“As with the works at the Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Camp and the Stanley Brown Wharf, the MESC project will have a positive economic dividend and generate jobs,” Minister Seruiratu said.

The ministers also discussed the progress of Australia’s Pacific Maritime Security Program, which delivered the first Guardian Class vessel, RFNS Savenaca, to the island nation in March, with the second vessel scheduled for handover in 2023.

The counterparts also noted the importance of a collective response to support the region’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Australia knows that we are stronger together than the sum of our parts,” Minister Reynolds said.

“It makes sense that the Australian Defence Force and Republic of Fiji Military Forces work closely together to develop the capability and interoperability we need to help maintain a resilient and secure region.”

Minister Seruiratu added: “We will continue to engage with trust, respect, and understanding. Our partnership has strong foundations, we meet as friends and family or ‘vuvale’. Together we can protect our shared interests in the Pacific.

[Related: RAAF Hercules delivers the goods for Fijian patrol boat]

Australia, Fiji pave way for reciprocal Status of Forces Agreement
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