PACIFIC LEADERS PLAN TO PROTEST AUSTRALIAN REPORT

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CANBERRA, Australia (July 23, 1997 - PACNEWS)---Pacific Island leaders, offended by allegations in a once-secret Australian briefing paper which labeled some of them as corrupt and ineffective economic managers, plan to protest formally at the next South Pacific Forum meeting, which takes place in mid-September in the Cook Islands.

Australian ministers and other officials are continuing a diplomatic offensive throughout the region to contain the damage, assuring island nations that the briefing paper does not reflect Australian government views or policies.

Despite these efforts, Pacific leaders have reacted angrily to the comments included in the paper, which was prepared as background for the Australian delegation to the South Pacific Forum Economic Ministers meeting in Cairns, north Queensland, earlier this month.

Copies of the document were accidentally left in a public area and were found by a journalist from Reuters news agency.

Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka described the report as a showing of Australia's disrespect.

Protests also have come from Marshall Islands Acting President, Ruben Zackhiras, who said the report had created a shock wave and dismay among Forum countries and damaged Australia's standing in the Forum community.

The Australian government plans to send Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to a number of Pacific countries before the September Forum meeting. His purpose will be to reinforce the message that the briefing paper does not reflect official Australian government policy.

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