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Fiji faces suspension from Pacific nation group

Fiji faces suspension from Pacific nation group

Fiji faces suspension from a 16-nation regional forum by year's end unless its military government can show progress toward holding democratic elections, Pacific leaders warned Thursday.
In an unanimous statement, Pacific Islands Forum leaders also condemned recent statements by Fiji coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama that reversed his 2007 pledge to hold elections by March 2009.
It was the first time a member nation has been threatened with suspension in the group's 39-year history, reflecting the exasperation of leaders at Bainimarama's actions.
Bainimarama, who took power in a bloodless coup in December 2006, withdrew his election pledge early this month, saying he needed more time to reform what he calls a racist, unfair electoral system.
He then boycotted this week's meeting, claiming Fiji was being pressured to hold elections before it could complete electoral reforms.
Bainimarama also threatened to pull out of the bloc if it pressed his country to return to democracy too quickly, adding that some smaller Pacific states were concerned that regional powers Australia and New Zealand were continuing to "victimize" Fiji.
But forum chairman Toke Talagi, the premier of Niue, said the group was unanimous in demanding the military-led state live up to its word or face possible suspension.
The decision was not a bid to further isolate Fiji but showed that the bloc hopes it can re-engage with the wayward state, Talagi said.
"We all agreed to the communique. We expressed our concerns. The leaders were concerned about the credibility of the forum," he told reporters. "We all had open discussions and every leader was happy and there was no pressure on smaller countries. We felt no pressure at all from Australia and New Zealand."
Leaders likely will hold a special meeting later in the year to consider a fresh report on Fiji and discuss what measures to take.
It was not clear if the suspension warning from the bloc would have any effect on Bainimarama.
"The ball's in his court," New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark told reporters. "This is a very strong message."
Clark warned that Fiji "walking away" from the Pacific forum would send major aid donors like the European Union a "powerful message ... that the regional grouping is being spurned in its effort to help Fiji."
"So the commodore needs to think carefully before he walks that road," she said.
In an initial response, Fiji Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum accused Australia and New Zealand of bullying Fiji, "taking the high road, the (police) baton and ... trying to make us succumb to whatever they want."
"At no point in time has the (Fiji) Prime Minister ever said he's not going to hold elections," Khaiyum said. "He's said we do want elections, but we want elections under a fair and just system."
"That's the proposition on the table. What's so difficult in accepting that?" he told New Zealand's National Radio, without indicating whether Fiji would change its stance because of the mounting pressure from neighboring states.
In a special declaration on climate change, the forum said the Pacific Islands region is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change "including its exacerbation of climate variability, sea level rise and extreme weather events."
The region faced "urgent social, economic and security threats" from the adverse impacts of climate change and sea level rise to the integrity of its territories and "continued existence as viable communities," it said.
The "Niue Declaration on Climate Change" welcomed increased investment by aid partners to support Pacific efforts to adopt alternative and renewable energy sources that cut regional greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency.
It also encouraged support for "climate change action on adaptation, mitigation and, if necessary, relocation" of Pacific communities invaded by rising sea levels. Already coastal communities in Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea have been forced to relocate by rising sea levels.
The 16 nation Pacific Islands Forum comprises Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.


Updated : 2021-06-14 22:46 GMT+08:00