WELLINGTON - Australia and New Zealand lifted all travel restrictions on senior Fijian officials Monday ahead of the South Pacific nation's return to democratic elections in September.
The bans were imposed eight years ago following a coup led by military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama who last week set September 17 as the election date.
"We are confident that lifting travel restrictions will lay a framework for closer dialogue and cooperation with Fiji on bilateral and regional issues," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.
"The decision is in line with the Australian government's policy of re-engagement and normalisation of bilateral relations with Fiji." New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the progress Fiji had made towards "free and fair" elections in September deserved recognition from the international community.
"As a consequence of these developments New Zealand will be ending all the remaining travel sanctions we have in place against Fiji," he said.
"This is a continuation of our policy to support Fiji's return to democratic rule and reflects our close cooperation with Australia on matters relating to Fiji." The travel sanctions in place since the December 2006 coup applied to Fiji's self-appointed prime minister Bainimarama, government ministers, military personnel and their families, and other government appointees including the judiciary.
The Fijian government issued a statement saying it welcomed the lifting of the "ill conceived" sanctions as a "positive step towards restoring normal relations".
"We have always maintained that our three governments can work together if it is on the basis of a mutual respect for national sovereignty and on equal terms," the statement said.