Fiji became independent in 1970, after nearly a century as a British colony. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987, caused by concern over a government perceived as dominated by the Indian community (descendants of contract laborers brought to the islands by the British in the 19th century). The coups and a 1990 constitution that cemented native Melanesian control of Fiji, led to heavy Indian emigration; the population loss resulted in economic difficulties, but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. A new constitution enacted in 1997 was more equitable. Free and peaceful elections in 1999 resulted in a government led by an Indo-Fijian, but a civilian-led coup in May 2000 ushered in a prolonged period of political turmoil. Parliamentary elections held in August 2001 provided Fiji with a democratically elected government led by Prime Minister Laisenia QARASE.
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The Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF), with a total manpower of 3,500 men, is one of the smallest in the world. The 3,200 men in the active army are organized into six infantry and one engineer battalions, with approximately 6,000 reserves forming a further three. The navy has 300 men and operates 9 boats while the Airforce has one helicopter.
The first two regular battalions of the Fiji Infantry Regiment are traditionally stationed
overseas on peacekeeping duties; the 1st Battalion has been posted to Lebanon, Iraq, and East Timor under the command of the UN, while the 2nd Battalion is stationed in Sinai with the MFO. The 3rd Battalion is stationed in the capital, Suva, and the remaining three are spread throughout the islands.