fwd: PM hit by Pacific storm

Alan Bradley alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Sat Oct 28 05:19:12 MDT 2000

>From The Australian (Murdoch national daily)

PM hit by Pacific storm
By South Pacific correspondent in Tarawa

JOHN Howard flew into a political squall at the Pacific Islands Forum in
Kiribati yesterday, where forum countries remain divided over the key
issues of West Papuan independence and the strength of a planned
declaration of democratic principles.

Officials from the 26 forum countries have failed to resolve either issue
ahead of the annual Regional Heads of Government Meeting. The burden for
negotiating Australia's outcome on both issues now falls to the Prime
Minister, who will spend today in "retreat" with the other leaders.

While West Papua is not on the official agenda of the forum, it has become
an issue after Nauru included five members of the Papua Council as part of
its official delegation to the three-day meeting.

Forum chairman and Kiribati President Beretitenti Tito said yesterday he
expected the matter would be dealt with informally at today's leaders
retreat on Biketawa Island but was unlikely to appear in the forum's final

"This will be a fairly sensitive issue for some member countries of the
forum. I suspect that some leaders (who) aren't very comfortable with this
issue would recommend that the communique will be silent on this," he said.

Papua New Guinea, which shares a land border with Indonesian-controlled
territory, is also expected to strongly oppose any mention of the issue in
the communique.

Mr Howard did not comment on the sensitivity, for Australia's relationship
with Indonesia, on West Papua's renewed push for independence, but Foreign
Minister Alexander Downer warned of a "bloodbath" if succession were

"It is very well for people to make emotional statements about this . . .
but . . . we saw the upheaval in East Timor last year and I can tell you
that will look very calm and very smooth compared to any succession in West
Papua," he said.

"If you try to chop West Papua out of Indonesia, believe me, it will be a

Mr Howard signalled he would be pushing for the strongest possible
declaration from the forum of principles for a mechanism to deal with
future crises in the region.

He said the planned declaration would give forum countries an opportunity
to "make it plain military coups are not the 'Pacific way' ".

Australia has strongly backed the declaration, designed in the wake of this
year's coups in Fiji and Solomon Islands, to give the forum more teeth in
responding to instability in the region.

But after strong lobbying by Fiji, several countries have backed away from
the inclusion of provision for the enforcement of targeted sanctions
against member states.

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