Tears flowed as 26 of the 80 surviving soldiers exposed to radiation during British nuclear tests on Christmas Island in 1958 received payment of more than $F9000 (US$4,373) each from the Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama in Suva Friday.
Each soldier received $9855 (US$4,803), amounting to $256,230 (US$124,501).
For the 54 survivors who have not been paid, a committee has been set up within the Ministry of Defence to receive documentation and process their payment.
Ministry of Defence Permanent Secretary Osea Cawaru said those veterans who have passed on would also be paid via their dependants.
A total of 205 veterans who were part of the Fijian brigade to Christmas Island, now known as Kiribati, have died.
Handing over the cheques, Bainimarama said the gesture was to right a wrong and bring justice to a brave and proud group of Fijians to whom a great injustice was done.
“But Fiji is not prepared to wait for Britain to do the right thing. We owe it to these men to help them now, not wait for the British politicians and bureaucrats. So today, I have the great honour to award these survivors a modest token of what we can afford to finally acknowledge the great injustice that was done to them almost six decades ago.
You may ask: why is Fiji taking responsibility for something that is the fault of Britain? My answer is this: Too much time has passed. The ranks of these survivors are rapidly thinning. Too many men – our fellow Fijians – have gone to their graves without justice. Those who remain deserve justice and Fiji as a nation is determined for them to finally get it,” said Bainimarama.
“Today, a saga that began nearly sixty years ago comes full circle. It was called Operation Grapple and today we are still grappling with its effects.
“We need to erase this blight on our history. We need to lift the burden on our collective conscience. There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. And these men have been denied justice long enough.”
An emotional, Paul Ah Poy, President of the Nuclear Veterans Association, expressed the members' gratitude to Bainimarama and his Government for addressing their concerns.
“Finally our prayers have been answered. It's only the beginning,” Ah Poy said.
Those who received payment today: Maciu Suguturaga, Tomasi Vasuca, Maleli Naigulevu, Wame Turaga, Peniame Silatole, Jona Vakaotia, Jone Varivai, Tekoti Rotan, Nacanieli Seru, Levaci Nawaqa, Emori Ligaca, Saiasi Tagayawa, Tevita Batikaciwa, Silivakadua Rakaria, Rt Kamarusi Kini, Josefa Ifa, Paul Ah Poy, Amani Tuimalabe, Anare Bakele, Ropate Voreqe, Ilimotama Baka, Rt Busa Rusiate, Qalo Isireli Nairevurevu, Vatimi Lagicere, Niko Buka, Naibuka Naicegulevu .