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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 12, 1998 - The Saipan Tribune)---A forum on the socio-economic impact of the Compact Agreement should be held between CNMI, Guam, the United States and the Freely Associated States (FAS) in a bid to resolve disputes arising from the accord, Rep. Heinz Hofschneider said yesterday.

But the issue should be tackled separate from the negotiations on the terms of the Compact between the U.S. and FAS which will start next year amid concerns that Washington might cut back its economic assistance to the FAS as provided in the 15-year agreement.

Hofschneider said a representation by Guam and the CNMI to the forthcoming talks could affect the outcome of the new agreement which may imperil the future of most of the Western Pacific islands traditionally dependent on U.S. for their development.

"We should focus on what the impact is on the commonwealth, but it should not be infringing and meddling into the political outcome of the negotiations by the Micronesian islands," the representative told in an interview.

Some CNMI officials as well as lawmakers from Guam had earlier sought for representation to the Compact negotiations in an apparent sign of growing frustration over the failure of the federal government to provide financial assistance to FAS citizens migrating into more developed Pacific islands.

But a regional dialogue, according to Hofschneider, could help address thorny issues on the impact of the open migration policy set forth by the Compact. The measure allows FAS citizens to freely enter into the mainland and other U.S. territories.

It could also pave the way for the federal government to respond to demands by CNMI, Guam and Hawaii for reimbursement of the expenses incurred by respective government in hosting thousands of FAS citizens on their islands.

The more prosperous Pacific islands have repeatedly asked Washington to defray the costs of providing them housing, education, health and other social needs, but federal officials have continued to renege on their financial obligations.

In a recent meeting of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures, several delegates expressed deep concern on whether the U.S. would be as "generous" as they were on its economic largesse to the FAS given the changing strategic value of the region.

House Majority Floor leader Ana S. Teregeyo, an APIL officer, pointed out the issue is expected to be raised anew during the scheduled Board of Directors meeting in August.

"We should be able to support one another and at the same time respect each other's position," she said.

But Teregeyo expressed support behind the proposal for a CNMI representation to the Compact negotiations, saying that it could open discussion on the impact between the affected parties.

"It is important to take that first step during the stage of negotiations so that the continued impact of the Compact is addressed and appropriated accordingly," she said.

Hofschneider, however, stressed the need for cooperation among the different islands in the region as a step to foster economic development for the rest of Micronesia.

"There is nowhere to go but cooperate between island entities. Cooperation is needed," he said, adding that mutual concerns like marine resources, the labor pool and economic assistance within member states could be discussed by regional leaders and government officials.

FAS, comprised of the Federated States of Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap as well as the Republic of Marshalls, was set up in 1986 after it forged the Compact with the U.S. The agreement, which expires in 2001, is up for renegotiation in October 1999.

(A separate Compact was concluded with Palau.)


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