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APIA, Samoa (March 24, 1999 - PACNEWS)---United States President Bill Clinton has hailed the late Prime Minster of Samoa, Tofilau Eti Alesana, as a good friend of the U.S.

A condolence message from President Clinton and his wife Hillary said Tofilau was a respected voice in regional and world councils.

The message was read to Tofilau's widow, Pitolua, by American Samoa Congressman Eni Faleomavaega at a church service before Tofilau's funeral.

Tofilau was buried today at his home village of Lalomalava, on Savai‘i Island.

Tofilau, 74, died in Apia last Friday after a series of illnesses.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert remembered Tofilau as a leader who pledged his country's support for America when other nations in the Pacific region were backing away.

Hastert said when many nations in the Pacific region began to doubt America's role at the height of the Cold War, Tofilau publicly announced his full support of the United States and invited U.S. warships to Samoa.

Congressman Faleomavaega, a nephew of the former Prime Minister, described Tofilau's death as a sad day for Samoa, the Samoan community at large, and the Pacific region. "The whole Samoan community has lost one of its greatest leaders ever," he said.

Secretary General of the South Pacific Forum Secretariat Noel Levi said Tofilau would be remembered for a lifetime of public service and his strong support for a Pacific voice on regional issues.

"Honorable Tofilau helped strengthen a foundation for economic development and political stability that offers lessons for the region and will be remembered well into the next century,'' said Levi.

"Some of the measures his government promoted, such as the introduction of tax reforms in 1994, foreshadowed the position of the region a few years later when Forum Economic Ministers agreed in 1997 on a series of economic reforms to prepare for trade liberalization and other overall global changes."

Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said Tofilau's contribution to the South Pacific Forum, as a senior Pacific Islands leader, had greatly enhanced the region's international image and importance.

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