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HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (February 23, 1999 - PIDP/CPIS/Hulsen)---The Chairman of the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders, Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, opened a two-day meeting of the regional organization's Standing Committee at Honolulu's East-West Center today by asking delegates to honor two prominent Pacific independence fighters who, in the past week, he said, "have passed on."

He asked assembled leaders from throughout the Pacific to remember and reflect on the significant contributions made by the first President of the Federated States of Micronesia, Bailey Olter, and the first Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Father Walter Lini, to their own countries and to the Pacific Islands region as a whole.

Following a moment of silence in remembrance of the two leaders, Prime Minister Rabuka called the Standing Committee business session to order, saying the Pacific community must keep pace with global changes.

He stressed the need for the region to become an integral part of the telecommunications highway.

Rabuka said Pacific nations should invest heavily in digital communication facilities, which are overcoming the region's traditional barriers of distance and geographical isolation, and can make the Pacific "more productive and more competitive" in the international marketplace.

He told the Standing Committee, "Good things will not happed just by waiting. If we stand still, we will lose."

To attract new investments, he said, Pacific Island nations must "sharpen our focus" and "we must be creative, competitive and productive."

The agenda for the two-day meeting, which will continue through tomorrow, calls for consideration of Pacific Islands Development Program research and education priorities and increased activity by the U.S. Pacific Islands Joint Commercial Commission (JCC).

The assembled leaders also will evaluate the effect of the Asian financial crisis on the island region and consider ways to prevent and manage conflict within the Pacific.

Among the leaders participating in the Hawai‘i meeting are Cook Islands Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Henry, French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse, Tonga Prime Minister Baron Vaea and other representatives from the Federated States of Micronesia, New Caledonia, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

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