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Vasemaca Koila Josephine Mara was born in 1953, the daughter of the Fijian statesman Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (1920-2004) and Ro Lady Lala Mara (1931-2004). Her father, considered the founding father of the modern Fijian nation, was Fiji's first Prime Minister (1967-1992, apart from a very brief interruption in 1987) and later served as President (1993-2000).
In 1981, Adi Koila married Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. The scion of another chiefly family, Ratu Nailatikau (born 1941) has had a distinguished career of his own, serving variously as Commander of the Royal Fiji Military Forces in the 1980s, High Commissioner (equivalent to an ambassador in Commonwealth countries) to the United Kingdom in the 1990s, and as Deputy Prime Minister in 2000 and 2001. He currently (2004) serves as Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Fijian Parliament is thus one of the few legislative bodies in the world in which a husband and wife have had simultaneous parliamentary careers. They have two children: a son, Kamisese (named after Adi Koila's father), and a daughter, Litia .
After a serving her country as a diplomat in the 1980s and 1990s, Adi Koila decided to follow in her father's footsteps, and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1999 as a candidate of the Christian Democratic Alliance . In the coalition Cabinet that was subsequently appointed, Adi Koila became Minister of Tourism.
Adi Koila's cabinet career was brought to a sudden end on May 19, 2000, when George Speight, an extreme Fijian nationalist who objected to the presence of Indo-Fijians in the government, seized power, kidnapping the Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry and most of the Cabinet, including Adi Koila, and forcing her father to resign as President. A period of political turbulence followed. Democracy was restored in 2001, and Adi Koila was chosen by the Great Council of Chiefs to fill one of fourteen Senate seats reserved for Fijian chiefs. She has since played an active role as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Refusal to participate in Reconciliation Week
On 25 September 2004, Adi Koila rejected the efforts of Speight and his accomplices Ratu Timoci Silatolu and Josefa Nata to offer an apology to the parliamentarians they had held hostage in the 2000 coup. Following a supposed "religious conversion" experience, Speight announced in mid-2004 that he had had a change of heart about the coup and the reasons for it. Saying that she was still grieving for her parents, who died within three months of each other in 2004, Adi Koila said it was too soon for her to consider any apology from the perpetrators of the coup which deposed her father. "I feel that the rule of law must be upheld," she said. "I simply will not accept any apology until justice is done." Adi Koila added that her refusal to accept any political attempts at reconciliation was motivated by her belief that the "culture of coups" must be discouraged.
Explaining her refusal to participate in the Fiji Week reconciliation ceremonies, also known as Reconciliation Week, Adi Koila told the Senate on 23 October 2004 that the reconciliation undertaken would be worthless unless investigations into the coup revealed the truth behind its staging.
Adi Koila expressed anger that Simione Kaitani (whom she accused of making speeches against her father inside the parliamentary complex during the coup) and Naiqama Lalabulavu (whom she accused of having ordered the burning of the Matailakeba Cane Farm in Seaqaqa on July 29, 2000) both now hold Cabinet positions, and that former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka and former Police Commissioner Isikia Savua , both of whom her late father had accused of involvement in the coup, now occupied senior diplomatic posts.
Adi Koila wondered aloud why the government had decided to organize the reconciliation ceremonies only after both of her parents had died. "Why was the concept of reconciliation never done for the late Turaga Bale the Tui Nayau (Ratu Mara) or for that matter the late Marama Bale the Roko Tui Dreketi (Ro Adi Lala Mara)?" she demanded. "Was all this conjured overnight immediately after their demise?" she questioned.
Adi Koila said she was baffled that in the reconciliation ceremonies, the apology was offered, not to the victims of the 2000 coup, but to President Iloilo and Prime Minister Qarase, whom she said were the principal beneficiaries of the coup. "Because if it was not for the coup they would not be in those positions as the Turaga Bale the Tui Nayau would still be the President and Mr Chaudhry Prime Minister. "More so, if it was not for the coup my parents would still be alive today," she said. Ratu Mara's health had deteriorated following his overthrow, leading to his death in May 2004; Adi Lala had died three months later. Clarifying her remarks two days later, Adi Koila reiterated that the reconciliation ceremony was inappropriate because the person who received the whale's tooth and forgave the people in the ceremony at Albert Park had not been a victim of the May 2000 coup.
Adi Koila repeated that there could be no genuine forgiveness until questions were answered about who was involved in organizing and funding the 2000 coup. "An individual will forgive when he or she is ready. There must be truth telling, as to why they participated and who gave the orders," Adi Koila said. "Reconciliation cannot eventuate or materialise until the proper legal procedures have been followed, that is without interference from external forces."
Rejecting the criticism, the Prime Minister's spokesman Jioji Kotobalavu retaliated by accusing Adi Koila's father, Ratu Mara, of having benefited from the 1987 coups. He went on to say that the Prime Minister had not benefited from the coup because he had quit a lucrative career in the private sector in order to "rescue a Fiji in turmoil." He did not address Adi Koila's charge that the present government is full of individuals who were involved in the 2000 coup. Simione Kaitani , one of those implicated, accused Adi Koila of "crying over spilt milk," and insisted that there was "no truth at all" in her accusations against him. He added only God knew why her parents died.
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