Pacific island leaders reach agreement on regional security

TARAWA, Kiribati, AP

Pacific island leaders have reached agreement on a broad declaration on regional security during a close door summit, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Saturday. Howard said the declaration, to be concluded Monday, would establish the basis for the 16 Pacific Islands Forum Nations to become involved in the event of a security crisis such as occurred with coups in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. He said the agreement would stop short of outlining specific sanctions. The prime minister also said forum members had agreed to send a formal message to Indonesia calling for a peaceful resolution to violence in Irian Jaya. But Howard said the message would not spark renewed tensions between Australia and Indonesia similar to what occurred with the East Timor peace mission last year. “It could not reasonably be so interpreted because the sovereign authority of Indonesia has been acknowledged,” he said. “So unless somebody is asserting that we can’t say anything about it, which is plainly ridiculous, it could hardly be regarded as provocative or offensive. It is just a statement of the obvious.” Irian Jaya, also known as West Papua, is Indonesia’s gold and mineral-rich eastern most province and occupies the western half of Papua island north of Australia. The eastern half is Papua New Guinea, and native Irian Jayans share a Melanesian heritage with their Pacific neighbors to the east. Irian Jayan independence fighters, mostly tribesmen from mountain villages, have for 37 years fought a low-level war against Indonesia. Jakarta has responded by killing or jailing many activists and banning public displays of the movement’s flag. Earlier, Forum leaders and other senior officials traveled by boat across a lagoon near the capital of this tiny atoll nation to attend the retreat on the Kiribati island of Biketawa. Regional powers Australia and New Zealand had pushed the grouping to adopt a harder line against Pacific states that spurn democracy. Fiji’s interim government has said it wouldn’t oppose the main thrust of any plan but would resist any attempt to limit its membership in the Forum, of which it was a founding member. The interim government was installed by Fiji’s military in the aftermath of the May 19 nationalist coup led by failed businessman George Speight and that toppled the government of former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, the first leader from Fiji’s ethnic Indian minority. The Solomon Islands’ new government, formed after an armed militia ousted the old regime in June, also attended the meeting. Leaders were also scheduled to discuss nuclear waste shipments through the Pacific Islands region and progress made in the creation of a Pacific Islands free-trade zone by 2009. Kiribati, formerly known as the Gilbert Islands, is an archipelago about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Hawaii. It was the scene of World War II battles in which thousands of U.S. and Japanese troops died.