A Letter to Sugasini Kandiah from Guy Threllfell

POSTSCPIPT. More thoughts from Guy, too long to publish as a comment, are  added at the end of this article.  Croz 21/11/11 2pm.
This is a follow up by "Guy Threllfell" on a letter I wrote to Suga, a student studying in America who had enquired about Fiji. Click here for the earlier letter,   Guy expresses a generally contrary opinion. I agree with most of his facts but do not accept many of this interpretations. We beg to differ while sharing similar concerns. -- Croz

Dear Suga,
I am an avid reader of the blogs on Fiji both pro regime ones like Croz’s and anti regime ones like coup 4.5. I occasionally comment on this blog and depending upon Croz’s mood he allows my comments or not.
I got your email address from his blog where he published it on his front page.
Let me tell you a bit about myself so you can see where my comments are coming from. I am a Kai Loma part Fijian Part European. I was born in Fiji more years ago than I wish to remember. I was an adult in 1987 and have lived through all the coups in Fiji. I have a degree from USP the university in Fiji and a Masters from an overseas uni. I will not go into too many details because I wish to remain anonymous. If you had not realized Guy is a pen name.
In the early stages of the coup I was keen to give Bainimarama the support he needed to turn the country round. I did not agree with the actual coup but we had a leader who was saying the right things. His intentions were clear. He was going to remove corruption, political and business. He was going to investigate the vote rigging of the 2006 elections and prove Qarase was not the true leader of Fiji. He was going to return the country to democracy within 3-5 years. He was going to continue to rule using the constitution.
After the coup we continued to have media freedom, there was a working judiciary untainted with regime interference. There was going to be a brave new world with no one person being allowed to sit on more than one Government enterprise board. No one involved in the coup was going to gain financially from their involvement. All those in the interim cabinet would not be allowed to stand for election in future polls.
All has changed and we find ourselves living in a dictatorship with no checks and balances. There is no media freedom. The judiciary is viewed by most as compromised under the influence of the regime and the Attorney General in particular. It is apparent to all that if we have elections in 2014, and that is a big if, the AG will be standing. We read daily that the PM and the AG are on massive salaries and receiving lots of backhanders. The former could be stopped immediately, if it is untrue, by the regime allowing the Auditor General to do his job and publish his reports one of which would be Government salaries.
Before I give you my views on the legitimacy of the regime I would like to correct some of the assumptions and inaccuracies of Croz.
1-      He questions the legitimacy of the Qarase Government.
Firstly, even if the Qarase government was questionable, it does not give the current regime legitimacy. And again even if Croz was right that the only way to stop the Qarase government was by the military, they could have returned to barracks within the 2-5 years they initially promised and not hang on until 2014.
The conflict between Bainimarama and Qarase was ongoing from about 2003. A number of senior Colonels resigned or were pushed from the military from 2003 onwards because they would not plan for the overthrow of the Qarase Government. In 2006, prior to the election, Bainimarama sent military teams into every village in Fiji. They were there to talk to the Fijian community about the dangers of Qarase and the risks he was taking with Fiji with the legislation he was proposing. In almost every case the villagers said they understood and they would not vote for Qarase in the election. As we all know Qarase won 85% of the indigenous Fijian vote. I think that puts into perspective the legitimacy of Bainimarama versus Qarase with the indigenous population. It also put into perspective Croz’s claim that Bainimarama was the most popular man in Fiji in 2006.
In addition to this the government he actually removed was a coalition government as ordered under the 1997 constitution. He had 11-12 members of the Fiji Labour Party as part of his cabinet. This was a multiracial government. This aspect is all too quickly forgotten by Croz and the coup apologists.
2-      The people who are now protesting the lack of civil rights and democracy in Fiji are the people who did not protest these coups because they benefited from them.
I am not sure I understand why this gives Bainimarama legitimacy. Nor is it true. I can list many people who oppose this Government who opposed the 2000 coup for example.
Mahendra Chaudhry is now vehemently opposed to the direction that Bainimarama is taking this country. He was obviously opposed to the 2000 coup.
Ratu Tevita Mara was actually the soldier who arrested George Speight. His father was ousted as President by Bainimarama and his sister Adi Koila Nailatikau was held hostage by Speight. He was obviously no supporter of 2000 and as you have seen he is no supporter of Bainimarama.
Pita Driti the same as Ratu Tevita.
Richard Naidu, a prominent Lawyer has opposed every coup. He was locked up in 1987 and he has been locked up and beaten up by the current regime.
Imrana Jalal has opposed every coup and has been harassed into exile by the current regime.
There are many others like myself, who are not brave enough to publicly make our opposition known but who oppose this regime as much as we were opposed Rabuka and Speight.
3-      Legitimacy Post Abrogation
Croz talks about the fact that Bainimarama had no choice but to abrogate following the ruling of the appeal court. That is not strictly true. He could have obeyed the law of the constitution which he swore he would uphold and have returned to barracks. I believe Bainimarama had different motives to the ones espoused by Croz. If he handed back the rule of the country, he would have been liable for prosecution not only for the coup but also the CRW murders in 2000. I do agree with Croz that logically Bainimarama would not give up power willingly. But giving up power was the only legitimate course of action.
To answer your question of what legitimacy does Bainimarama have. In legal terms he has none. However in practical terms he can create legitimacy. Whether he can create enough legitimacy only time will tell.
Not even Bainimarama and the AG believe they have legitimacy. They threw any hope of that out of the window when they abrogated the constitution. But you can see in their actions following the abrogation that they do not believe they have legitimacy.
The very first decree they passed was say no decree could be challenged in the courts. One of the primary ways of gaining legitimacy is for the courts to find in your favour. The regime has so little faith that the decrees they are passing would stand the scrutiny of a court they stop it from happening. For example the new Essential Industries decree breaks so many International Agreements which Fiji has ratified, that if it was ever challenged in court it would be thrown out straight away.
The same argument goes for PER and the Media Decree. If the regime really believed in its own legitimacy and its support it would allow open debate. However, it will not allow any opposing view or opinion to be expressed in public. It also clamps down on people who oppose it on a regular basis in private.
On a regular basis the regime undermines it own legitimacy by breaking promises and telling lies. If we go back to the first day of the coup Frank made a number of promises that blatantly have been broken.
1-      No one involved in the coup will profit financially. Irrespective of Bainimarama’s salary etc. He was the recipient of about $200k back pay. No one else in the military got such an amount even those that have been longer serving.
2-      We was going to uphold the constitution
3-      He was going to clean up corruption. FICAC has not proved any of the big cases of corruption in Government that Bainimarama was talking about.
4-      No single person would be allowed to sit on more than one board.
5-      Qarase was bankrupting the nation by his borrowing. He was borrowing at the rate of $250m per year Bainimarama is borrowing at over $500m
The list could go on.
But the broken promises have continued. Whether it is promises about election dates to the regional leaders and the EU or promising to remove PER when the media decree was promulgated. The list of outright lies continues.
In terms of the propaganda the regime put out it sails very close to the wind in terms of truth. Recently the World Bank published a report on the ease of doing business in every country in the world. The Min of Info ran a headline on a story saying Fiji was one of the top countries. Technically not a lie because Fiji was placed in the top half, barely. In truth Fiji had fallen a number of places. In 2006 it was the top Pacific Island country but it has now slipped to about 5th.
The need to control the message, the courts and media shows the regime does not believe in its own legitimacy.
One of the way the regime claims legitimacy is because of its support in the provincial councils and they all support the regime. But we have seen twice now in the past 2 months how this support has been achieved. At the Lau provincial Council Adi Ateca Ganilau was picked as chairman, but she resigned the next day after Leweni threatened to close the meeting and remove over $8m of Government development money. This week Adi Temumu the Chairman of the Rewa provincial council revealed that Rewa was threatened with the removal of over $3m and their dividend payments from shareholdings owned by Rewa would be stopped. She held firm and the meeting was closed and as I write she is expecting to be arrested. The way the Government has been exposed as a blackmailer of provincial councils removes any legitimacy they can claim from the support of the provinces.
Similarly the overwhelming support for the People’s Charter is another claim for legitimacy they make. However, we have recently seen in Wiki Leaks that John Sami the architect of the People’s Charter believes that coercion was used in getting the positive response. We have also learnt this week when Bainimarama visited a village they complained because no one had built the community hall they believed had been promised to them for their support of the charter.
Can it get legitimacy?
In its current form it can never have legitimacy. It is a dictatorship and it controls the people through PER, threats, blackmail and bribery.
How can it gain legitimacy for the 2014 elections if they happen. It can gain a degree.
To do so it needs to the following:
1-      It must end PER so we can have free speech, free press and the right to assemble etc. This needs to be done soon.
2-      It also needs to make clear what it means by National Interest in the Media Decree. Until that is clear there will always be an element of self censorship which will help the government and not their opponents.
3-      No one in the Interim Cabinet can stand for election. This was a promise made by Bainimarama in 2006. He knows how easy it is for the incumbent Government to win the election. He witnessed the way the Qarase Government won with a landslide in 2001 after some fairly dubious election practices.
4-      There must be a free debate on the economy that allows the mistakes of the regime to highlighted.
5-      The Constitution discussions must be free and anyone is allowed to contribute.
6-      Political Parties can develop their own manifestoes and not just pick and choose from the People’s Charter
7-      The army cannot take part in the campaigning
8-      The ballot boxes cannot be looked after by the army. If it is electronic voting then it needs to be audited by foreign experts appointed by the UN or some such body.
9-      Anyone is allowed to stand for election
10-  The decrees passed by the regime can be challenged in the courts
If they agree to all of the above then the government that comes next might have some legitimacy and by default the regime that created it will have some legitimacy. But if the constitutional debate and the elections are very tightly controlled then there will be no legitimacy.
I hope this helps. If you wish to email please feel free to do so. Good luck with your thesis and I would be interested in reading it when it is finished.


I tried to post the response below to a post made by anonymous. However it was too big to post.
Please could you put it up for me.Thanks again for publishing me. Guy

I want to thank you for publishing my letter. I think we both agree on the facts but our interpretation of them is wildly different.
I would also like to thank you for your support with phantom and I agree 100% with what you said about responsible media covering both sides of a story.
I want to respond to anonymous point by point.
1-      Legitimacy of sovereigns
In terms of Queen Elizabeth her ancestors gave up her right to govern Britain centuries ago. She is the head of State of Britain but she has no powers to actually govern. All the powers to govern are given to the Prime Minister, his government and Parliament. She would be the first one to state she has no legitimate right to govern Britain.
The King of Tonga obviously felt the same and he willing gave up his right to govern Tonga last year when they had truly democratic elections for the first time. Again like Britain he is the Head of State but it is his Prime Minister and the Government that run Tonga.
Neither have the legitimacy to govern their countries. The people have the right through elections.
Time and constancy has given the current monarch the legitimacy to be the head of State of Britain. Frank will have 8 years by 2014. That I hope does not give him the traditional legitimacy to govern Fiji forever.
2-      Massive Salaries
It is hearsay but it is very easy for Bainimarama and the AG to show what they are truly being paid. Most governments, especially ones which preach transparency like this government, publish the salaries of the PM and his ministers. It is not as if Frank does not have the information readily at hand. If they wish to stop this “Hearsay “, they could do so this minute.
We have also not had any denial that they are paid by Aunty Nur. Again they could disprove that in a second but they choose not to do so.
When it is expedient to them they are quick to publish salaries. Just look at how quickly we all learnt what Felix Anthony and Daniel Urai were paid.
If Bainimarama wants legitimacy he has to treat everyone equally and that means exposing himself and his cabinet to the same scrutiny that opponents of the regime suffer.
3-      Ease of Doing Business
You miss the point. Fiji is getting worse but the regime does not report it, they imply that we doing well. How can you have legitimacy when you are dishonest with the people?
More importantly Fiji, since 2006 has consistently had its lowest investment levels of all time. We should be looking at ways of making it easier for investors and not harder. If we are to stop our economic decline we need to attract investors and not make it harder for them to do business.
4-      Lau Provincial Meeting
I was not there but I have seen the speech Adi Ateca made. She never said she would not work with the Government. In essence she accused the Government of using “dirty politics” a phrase coined by Bainimarama. In her speech she said all governments had to look after all of the people of the country irrespective for their support of the government. She went on to say it was “dirty politics” to only offer development money to Lau in return for Lau’s support of the People’s Charter.
She was happy to work with Government. She was not happy to be blackmailed into publicly supporting Bainimarama’s Government.
We are seeing a consistent approach by Bainimarama into threatening, bribing and blackmailing provinces into supporting his regime.
That approach does not give him legitimacy.
5-      Free Press
The Fiji Times may or may not have contributed to the coup in 2000. That is not the issue under discussion here. But one of the things that annoys me about Frank supporters is the way they bring up old wrongs as if that gives them a valid reason to behave even worse.
Currently Fiji media only gives one side of the story. The Government’s version of events. That is unreliable and as I have demonstrated many times it is often inaccurate.
If you will not allow public debate of your policies, your successes and your failure how can you have legitimacy? The fact Bainimarama does not allow this public debate demonstrates he is not confident in his own legitimacy.
For example there has been no real debate on the Commerce Commission and its price fixing. In my opinion and it is shared by many it is one of the primary causes for the lack of investment in Fiji. It is a subject in the National Interest and is worthy of debate. To have this debate in the media and to allow the business community to point out the dangers of Price fixing would be helpful to all.
6-      Standing in elections
Don’t ask me why no one in the current government can stand in elections in 2014. Ask Frank. He clearly stated when he took over the country that no minister in his interim government would be able to stand for election. I assume he had some very good reasons for making this statement.
7-      Criminal Standing for elections
I should have worded that more carefully and no as a general rule I do not think that criminals should be allowed in parliament.
However, I do think exceptions should be made if those criminal convictions were given on trumped up charges in courts controlled by a dictator. I am not saying that is the case but under those circumstances I would allow “criminals” to stand for election.
Thanks again to you Croz for allowing me to clarify my points.
Guy Threllfell

If you will not allow public debate of your policies, your successes and your failure how can you have legitimacy? The fact Bainimarama does not allow this public debate demonstrates he is not confident in his own legitimacy.

For example there has been no real debate on the Commerce Commission and its price fixing. In my opinion and it is shared by many it is one of the primary causes for the lack of investment in Fiji. It is a subject in the National Interest and is worthy of debate. To have this debate in the media and to allow the business community to point out the dangers of Price fixing would be helpful to all.

6-      Standing in elections
Don’t ask me why no one in the current government can stand in elections in 2014. Ask Frank. He clearly stated when he took over the country that no minister in his interim government would be able to stand for election. I assume he had some very good reasons for making this statement.

7-      Criminal Standing for elections
I should have worded that more carefully and no as a general rule I do not think that criminals should be allowed in parliament.

However, I do think exceptions should be made if those criminal convictions were given on trumped up charges in courts controlled by a dictator. I am not saying that is the case but under those circumstances I would allow “criminals” to stand for election.

Thanks again to you Croz for allowing me to clarify my points.

Guy Threllfell
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Phantom, not God said…
Croz, why on earth you give this guy oxygen, I can only wonder. If he was prepared to argue under his real name, fine. But you have given first rank status as a contributor to an anonymous person. This is a very bad precedent and I hope it's not repeated. The analysis is so banal and run of the mill that it's simply doesn't warrant the treatment you've given it.
Yea yea said…
Thank you. Honest, fair and accurate comments. You 10 point list is a good one. If the current government could just do 50percent of this that wouldnbe a great start.
Yea yea said…
Thank you. Honest, fair and accurate comments. You 10 point list is a good one. If the current government could just do 50percent of this that wouldnbe a great start.
On the side lines in viti Levu said…
MUST READ. Thanks for publishing this Croz. It shows you are open to the alternate view. Fiji's military could learn a lot from you.
Anonymous said…

Legitimacy does not necessarily have to obtained via an election. It we take your line then the King of Tonga, the rulers in UAE, Queen Elizabeth etc, do not have any legitimacy to be where they are now. Legitimacy can also be derived from the 'expectations' of the people that they will be looked after as subjects etc. This is the idea of the benign sovereign.

You say you 'hear' that the AG and the PM are on 'massive salaries'. This is hearsay and undermines your argument.

If Fiji has slipped to 5th place in the Pacific behind Tonga and Samoa in terms of the ease of doing business, why arent big businnesses setting up there c.f. Fiji? Fiji's ranking in the ease of doing business index is currently being addressed by a number of bodies in Fiji, including the various local government councils.

Were you at the Lau Provincial Council meeting that Adi Ateca resigned from? When nominated she made it clear that she would not support the government and its Charter process. Leweni then responded by pointing out that this would endanger government funding. The delegates then reconsidered and asked Adi Ateca to step aside. Why did Adi Ateca bother standing in the first place if she knew she could not support the Charter process? Methinks its all politics.

You want a free Press? I suggest you read Thakur Singh's excellent thesis on how the Fiji Times, under the banner of a 'free press', played a destabilising role in the events leading to 2000. As Thakur notes, the Fiji Times was behaving like a First World Press in a Third World country. The Fiji Times, like the Methodist Church and the Great Ciouncil of Chiefs, owe Fiji an apology for its dirty role in the ousting of a democractically government lead by MPC.

Why can't anyone in the current government stand for elections in 2014?

You then go on to say (#9) that anyone can stand for elections. Does that mean convicted crims? Or foreigners with no allegiance to Fiji?

So many other holes in your argument. Time and space does not permit.

You have demonstrated that having a Masters degree does not necessarily make you any wiser than many others without it. Your reasonings have been clouded by your biases and political prejudices. Vakaloloma dina.
Croz Walsh said…
@ Phantom not God ... There are, as you well know, good reasons why people do not use their real names. You do not even use your real name yourself!
Whether I use anonymous contributions or not is my prerogative as editor. I publish many articles and comments with which I disagree. This is what I think the responsible media should do if it really wants to help Fiji. Slavish agreement with the Bainimarama government is just as damaging as slavish disagreement.

God gave human beings brains to think with. I cannot be held responsible if Phantoms missed out.

Why not argue with him, point by point. I will publish your argument. I know his views are "run of the mill." That is the point. They are commonly held views to which Government and government supporters should repond. The trouble is they don't. Dismissing his comments as banal is a cop out.
Croz Walsh said…
Guy had a reply that is too large to publish as a comment for which the limit is 4096 characters. I have therefore added his comment to his posting. Please refer to it there.
Anonymous said…
@ Guy

Leave aside for a moment your technical elections-based definitions of democracy and legitimacy - they are Western concepts that on more than one occassion in Fiji's recent history were labelled as a 'foreign flower' by indigenous Fijian leaders.

There is a bigger question here that you may wish to explain and which, I think, sheds more light on this issue of legitimacy.

The question that you may wish to address and explain to no school people like myself (you are the one with a Masters degree, is this: Why aren't Fijians (i'taukei) mobilising and demanding their so-called rights in the streets of Suva ala the 'Arab Spring'?

Now dont tell they are scared of guns coz if you claim that then you are being intellectually lazy. The public in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen etc face a much more serious threat from their own security forces, yet they are willing to put their bodies and lives on the line.

Why aren't people in Fiji, and the i'taukei in particular not doing this on the same scale and with the same degree of enthusiasm. Do they think democracy is not imperative? Do they think that as long as Frank can deliver development and look after their needs and expectations as a community, that he has legitimacy to rule in the same way that benign rulers have done in history?

Please dont tell me that they are 'lamu' of guns. Why arent the Egyptians, Syrians, Libyans etc not so lamu c.f. the i'taukei?

I look forward to your explanantion
i-Taukei military said…
@ anonymous

Why do the i-taukei need to do anything? Nothing will change unless THEY want it to. At the end of the day OUR military will see to that. Indians will just flail around in circles. As they always do. So get over it and move on.
Guy Threllfell said…

I take it that you accepted all the points I made countering your initial comment as you have moved swiftly on to a new point. I agree diversion is often a good way to hide your failings and is a practice much favoured by dictators.

I think you are confused between legitimacy and power. Bainimarama has power he has no legitimacy. He will never have any legitimacy until we have free and fair elections and then as I said before if he meets certain criteria. When the British Monarchy and the Tongan Monarchy came to power hundreds of years ago, it was the norm for a country to be ruled by one man. The world has thankfully moved on and democracy is becoming the norm. We have seen with the Arab Spring that even the most entrenched of dictators do not have legitimacy and when the people rise up so the dictators fall.

Your question about why aren’t the people of Fiji rising up against Bainimarama is a good one. It is one that I cannot answer. But I will make some observations about life on the ground in Fiji for those that oppose the regime.

There is massive intimidation. It does not yet mean death but it often means voluntary or involuntary exile or being the victim of Lawfare and spending years and a lot of money in court. The intimidation is made up of Guns, beatings, trumped up charges, economic threats, withholding government funds, withholding government contracts, trips to the camp, directed use of FICAC and FRCA to name a few. (I wanted to add another one but if I did the AG would hunt me down on a charge of contempt.)

If you oppose the regime you cannot speak openly for fear of reprisal. You no longer see any debate in the Chamber of Commerce meetings. It is all about whether the AG and his Aunty will like this or not like that. There is no political debate now anywhere in Suva unless you are with your closest friends and then only with care do you speak openly.

For most people in Fiji, their life under Frank is unchanged. They are a poorer, they eat less meat but their day to day life goes on much as before. There is no imperative reason for them to rise up.

But as investment remains low, as business is at the mercy of the capricious commerce commission, the government continues to increase the cost of doing business there will be less and less money to feed families, there will be less and less money for the FNPF, there will be less and less money for the Government. We already see government struggling to meet commitments and that will get worse. The pressure will rise on the regime. It will also make it very difficult for any government that follows if there are elections in 2014.

I for one hope we do not have an uprising similar to Libya or Syria. I don’t want to see bloodshed on a massive scale. I think that belief is shared by all the people I know. But we do want a change from dictatorship. We do want to run our businesses the way we need to make them profitable. We do want to be able to speak freely. We do want to be able to put our own names to what we write.

If you have not noticed this country is split. You are pro Frank or Anti Frank or ambivalent. Unfortunately the ambivalent are being forced to pick a side and so the mass in the middle that are happy to go along with the status quo is shrinking. We will have to see where and when we reach the tipping point and which way it falls.

sara'ssista said…
@ Anon, legitimacy is not obtained through usurping eletced governments either. All coup regimes are seek as temporary, even gadaddfi's, people reflect on all of them as a blip in history. If you want a mandate for change go to an election. There was no peoples movement in fiji prior to 2006 that required the miltary to step and most would accprt that harm that has been done to fiji's reputation and the reputation of the military has been damaging. It speaks volumes that no repected fiqures want to be seen anywhere near this regime or associated flunkies.It's interesting to note that this regime craves the very legitimacy that you call a 'foreign flower'. No world leader with any diginity wants to be seen with Bainimarama.The 'fijian democracy' that is often derided on this blog, i am sure will return in another form, but with a heavy military presence, an arbitrary list of banned persons who can stand for elections even with no criminal convictions and those slavishly seeking military patronage instead. EVEN THEN, if the elections should not go the way the military requires they have not said what they will do next...
Anonymous said…
@ Guy

Many thanks for your take/response to my questions. I must invoke here the Voltarian defence "I dont agree with what you say but I will defend your right to say it".

By the way, there was 'diversionary' tactics employed by self. I read and understood what your positon is and felt that there would be no point flogging a dead horse. We both have different takes on the current situation and in the way forward. Till next time, moce.
Standing in elections in Peace said…
@ Anonymous

"Why can't anyone who is part of government stand in 2014 elections?"

For two good reasons:

1) You agreed to be part of this 'set up' so you became a beneficiary of the funding of it. A beneficiary of the Public Purse. 2014 will require a Clean Slate and that is what was promised early on. Promises may not be reneged upon. Scrupulous, fastidious attention to the use of public money and its accounting will be a feature of the whole of 2014.

2) The outcomes of the current 'set up' are not universally beneficial. Many are deleterious. They might always have been determined to be so. Imposing upon a population through the withdrawal of fundamental, civilised rights is not the way to go if you wish to 'win friends and influence people, namely Voters'.

Usually, standing in elections means you will need to campaign. Campaigning is hard work and requires free speech, a Manifesto, freedom of movement and well-honed opinions and finances (private). It also requires meeting in groups, running pocket meetings and even large gatherings.

Now where do you start? By empowering all those potential voters you have immersed in silence for five years? Suddenly, they are going to think for themselves and moderately and rationally express their most cherished desires?

And you wish to achieve this in security and safety through popular trust? Even basic risk management would suggest this is flawed. In the May 2006 election campaign, so easily described as 'Free and Fair' - there were publicly displayed threats of violence just down the street. The very next year (2007) mobs of armed intruders were breaking into compounds unimpeded by Police.

Confidence and trust are so much harder to restore once the Peace has been destroyed. This is a Lesson of Peace-keeping. More Peace is being destroyed than built?

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