The Honourable Prime Minister,
The Representatives of the Religious Groups and Faith-Based Organizations present
Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls.
Good afternoon, nisa bula vinaka, salaam alaykum, namaste.
We gather together as a nation today to give thanks to Almighty God for the release of our 45 brave peacekeepers, who were detained for two weeks by a militant group in Syria.
Our prayers for their safe return have been answered. They are free and back safely with their comrades on duty with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights.
We rejoice as a nation that God enveloped them in his love to protect them and give them strength during their ordeal.
We also rejoice that God also enveloped their captors in his love, and guided them away from harming our men.
We are hearing remarkable stories from our soldiers of the bond they formed with their captors, hardened men, in one of the most unforgiving places on earth.That bond had nothing to do with politics or the cause that this group was trying to advance when the group took our men.
It was the basic bond of human beings interacting on an hourly and daily basis and coming to realize that they share a common humanity.
Let us ask ourselves this question:
Why were some of the people who seized our loved ones crying when they released them? How could the hostage takers have formed such an emotional attachment?
I believe there are three answers:
Our men had come to the Middle East to keep the peace, not as combatants. They are good men – honest, open and courageous; and they carry with them the bula spirit that Fijians take from our beloved nation across the world - of friendliness, Humility, Consideration for others and Love.
I also believe that God was with our soldiers, giving them the inner strength to confront their ordeal, to display their own character, discipline and strength, to empathize with their captors and engage with them in a way that perhaps they never expected.
And I believe that God was also with the militants. God shined his light into their hearts and turned their anger into compassion.
We also pray for them today and ask that they be granted peace, along with every person in that troubled part of the world.
God was also with us here in Fiji and especially with the families and friends of our men, whose anxiety and distress can only be imagined but who inspired us all with their own courage and fortitude.
Many of you are here with us today, naturally relieved and grateful that your loved ones are safe. We pay tribute to the dignity with which you faced your ordeal.
You, more than anyone, know in your hearts that God was with you, enveloping you in his comfort and love.
Your prayers have been answered, along with the prayers of our entire nation. Which is why we gather today in grateful thanks for God’s mercy.
We also rededicate ourselves as Fijians to our service to the global community through the United Nations to act as peacekeepers wherever and whenever it is necessary to keep the peace.
For some 36 years now, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces has answered the call to send the men and women of Fiji to those parts of the world riven by conflict and strife to act as a buffer between the warring factions.
It is the most noble of missions – to protect vulnerable, ordinary people caught up in these conflicts on behalf of every nation – the global family to which Fiji belongs.
It is Fiji’s contribution to the world, not to wage war but to keep the peace. And nothing that has happened in the past two weeks will alter our commitment to that mission.
We serve with pride and we will continue to serve.
As the Prime Minister said when our men were released, Fiji already stands tall and proud in the world.
But because of their example, we stand that much taller and that much prouder as we gather together today.
And during this poignant moment of thanksgiving and reflection we should also remember those men and women of Fiji who have served in and are still serving in Lebanon, Sinai, Iraq, Syria, Timor Leste, Sudan, Dafur, Liberia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, and in the Solomon Islands. Some of them have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Tomorrow, we also embark proudly on a landmark event in the life of our nation – the first genuinely democratic election in our history, based on equal votes of equal value.
Let us also dedicate ourselves today to conducting an election that is free and fair in an atmosphere of tolerance and goodwill.
As your president i urge you all to exercise your democratic right. It is your vote and no-one else’s. Do not be intimidated by threats of violence or actual violence.
I urge all political parties and their supporters not to intimidate anyone or engage in any untoward activity.
Democracy is about allowing all individuals to vote freely without fear or favour. We must all accept the will of the people but still unify as a nation.
YourExcellencies, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we have much to be grateful for as a nation.
Our beautiful surroundings, our abundant natural resources, and the rich diversity of our people.
Let us re-dedicate ourselves before God today to remain unified as a nation and to follow his example of love.
May God bless our peacekeepers and their families, may God bless us all as we strive to become a better nation.
May God bless Fiji.
Thank you, vinakavakalevu, sukria, bahootdhanyavaad.