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Fiji forces arrest rebel, 2 advisers, bodyguard

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SUVA, Fiji — Rebel leader George Speight, two of his advisers and a bodyguard were arrested Wednesday by Fijian military forces following allegations that Speight's men had threatened Fiji's president, a military spokesman said.

Shots were fired before the arrests at a military checkpoint close to Speight's camp, but there were no immediate reports of injuries. Witnesses told local radio that one of Speight's men was beaten as he was taken into custody.

There was no word on whether Speight would be charged. Earlier Wednesday, a military official said Speight was arrested for a curfew violation, and the army said Speight would be held responsible for any crimes committed by his supporters.

The allegations also involved "the carriage of arms in and around Suva by George Speight and his bodyguards," Lt. Col. Filipo Tarakinikini said.

Speight's supporters had no immediate reaction, but his arrest was sure to enflame tensions in a country already torn apart by civil unrest, attacks against ethnic Indians, economic paralysis and international censure following Speight's May 19 coup.

Speight and his supporters had been granted amnesty in exchange for releasing the last of the hostages seized after they stormed Parliament.

Speight claimed that they aimed to return power to indigenous Fijians from the ethnic Indians who dominate commerce and politics.

But Tarakinikini said amnesty was conditional on rebels turning in all their arms, which they had not done.

"Mr. Speight goes around with armed bodyguards — that is illegal. We can't have private militias operating around the country," Tarakinikini said.

Speight, his legal adviser Tevita Bukaru, spokesman Jo Nata and a bodyguard were being held at Suva's main military barracks, military officials said.

All week there were reports of Speight's men leaving their base at a school where they have set up camp to steal food from local residents. Speight supporters, including hundreds camped outside the school with a handful of stolen guns, also control a military barracks and Fiji's main hydroelectric plant outside Suva, Fiji's capital.

The military "will, from now on, hold George Speight responsible for any unlawful acts" committed in a corridor of land either side of the main road linking Suva with the airport.

The military posted extra troops across the Pacific island nation and at the checkpoint outside the school Wednesday in preparation for any violence, military spokesman Lt. Ro Alipate Mataitini said.

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo has settled on a Cabinet lineup and was to announce it Thursday, presidential aide Suliasi Turagabeci said, according to Radio FM96.

Speight has warned of renewed unrest unless the new government is stacked with his candidates.

He stormed out of a meeting with Iloilo on Tuesday after just a few minutes, apparently angry that the president had refused to appoint his choice for prime minister.

The rebels want Adi Samanunu Cakobau, Fiji's top diplomat to Malaysia whose grandfather was one of the nation's most powerful chiefs. Iloilo and the military back Laisenia Qarase, who is acting as caretaker prime minister.

The military had agreed to replace the government of Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji's first ethnic Indian leader, scrap the multiracial constitution and grant the rebels immunity from prosecution in exchange for the hostages' release.

Indians, who first arrived in Fiji in the late 1870s as indentured laborers, make up 44 percent of Fiji's population of 814,000 and now dominate commerce and industry.

Fiji has faced international censure following Speight's coup.