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By Monica Miller

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (November 18, 1998 - AFP)---America's only piece of territory south of the equator is battling Washington to get its own postage stamp.

But the authorities have told them "No." Only states, not territories, get stamps.

American Samoa wants the United States Postal Service to issue a special commemorative stamp to mark 100 years of relations between America and Eastern Samoa.

The stamp would honor the centennial of the signing of the Deed of Cession by chiefs of Tutuila, Aunuu and Manu'a and the United States, and the raising of the Stars and Stripes on local soil on April 17, 1900.

American Samoa is not taking no for an answer and has launched a major campaign to get as many signatures as possible of Samoans living here and abroad to get the Postal Service to change its mind.

The federal agency charged with overseeing American Samoa, the United States Department of Interior, has stepped in to fight American Samoa's case in the hope that by 2000, a stamp with the American Samoa Government seal and motto will be on mail from Pago Pago.

Local government leaders feel the commemorative issue would be a fitting way to mark a very significant day in its history.

Allen Stayman, who directs the Department of Interior's Office of Territorial and International Affairs, has made a forthright attempt to inform the U.S. Postal Service its reason for denying a centennial stamp for American Samoa is wrong.

He wrote to Post Master General William Henderson noting Gov. Tauese Sunia's request had been rejected because the Postal Service does not issue stamps regarding territories.

"I beg to differ. There are U.S. stamps for Puerto Rico, for her former governor and for Hawaii and Alaska when they were territories; there are even stamps for the (U.S.) Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands."

Knowing a little publicity will help push American Samoa's case along, Stayman has distributed copies of his letter to publications across the U.S. along with information about the campaign to gather signatures from American Samoans for a petition.

The petition asks the Commission to reverse its earlier decision and authorize a centennial stamp "to honor American Samoa philatelically."

Stayman states in a press release also being distributed nationwide: "American Samoa is the only major jurisdiction in the U.S. that never has been honored or depicted on a postage stamp. Samoa has waited 100 years, that is long enough."

On April 17, 1900, chiefs of a small unknown group of islands, without much in the way of natural resources, except perhaps the safest natural harbor in the world, put their signatures to a Deed of Cession, that most of them couldn't understand because it was not in their native tongue.

American Samoans are openly proud of their courting with the super power and always point to the number of Samoan soldiers in the U.S. Armed Forces, believed to be the highest per capita of any state or territory, as proof of their allegiance to the American flag.

At the same time, they want to be known as "100 percent Samoan," with laws prohibiting the sale of land to non-Samoans and special provisions in the Deed of Cession safeguarding the chiefly matai and communal family systems.

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz WWW: http://www.afp.com/english/

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