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WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 28, 1999 – PACNEWS)---The United States Ambassador-designate to Fiji has told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the Clinton Administration has notified Congress of its intent to resume military training for Fiji’s armed forces, which was suspended after the 1987 coups.

Appearing before the Committee, Osman Siddique said the United States strongly supports Fiji’s democratic renaissance and this move was "a tangible sign of that support."

"This is an exciting and important time for Fiji. Free and fair elections took place in May, marking the restoration of full democracy following the military coups in 1987, and subsequent political tension between the ethnic Fijians and ethnic Indian citizens of Fiji," he said.

Siddique noted the elections resulted in the selection of the first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, who named several ethnic Fijians to his Cabinet and made clear his intentions to serve the interests of all Fijian citizens regardless of their ethnicity. He said if confirmed as Ambassador, he would strive to further strengthen Fiji’s democratic institutions.

Siddique, a Bangladeshi-born businessman living in Virginia, said the United States’ bilateral relationship with Fiji is more important to U.S. national interests than Fiji’s small size would suggest.

"First, the United States and Fiji share the bedrock values of freedom and democracy, respect for human rights, the rules of law, and support for a free market economy. Our countries work together in regional organizations such as the South Pacific Forum and the Pacific Community to advance those values," he said.

"Secondly, Fiji has sought to play an important role in world affairs. It has contributed troops to several multi-lateral peacekeeping missions, including those in Lebanon, Sinai, Bougainville and Kuwait, and has sent police personnel to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"Thirdly, Fiji is strategically situated at the crossroads of air and sea-routes linking Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands with the U.S.. U.S. naval vessels call regularly in Fiji’s port, and our military aircraft often make refueling stops at its airport.

"Finally, there is economic potential in Fiji for U.S. firms. As an English-speaking independent member of the British Commonwealth, Fiji offers the perfect location for facilitating the often-neglected small and medium sized business in entering the Asian marketplace."

He said in addition to its location and language advantages, assets are secured and the Fijian Government welcomes foreign investment.

"As your Ambassador, I shall work to achieve significant increases of sales of U.S. goods and services, cultural and education exchange between our people, and in the promotion of tourism-related investment," he told the Committee.

The Ambassador-designate also spoke about U.S. interests in Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu -- the three other countries he will serve from the Suva-based Embassy.

"Tonga serves as a port of call for our naval vessels, receives some military training assistance, and has participated in regional peacekeeping operations.

"It facilitates the refueling and transit of US military aircraft, as do Nauru and Tuvalu. The Peace Corps has had a presence in Tonga for over three decades; volunteers currently assigned there serve as teachers and teacher trainers, and have organized Ecology Camps that promote practical steps by local communities to conserve their unique environment."

The U.S. Senate is expected to approve Siddique’s appointment this week.

The US Government did not announce an immediate successor to the former Ambassador, Don Gevirtz, when he left prematurely in July 1997, citing personal reasons for his early departure. Charge’ d’Affaires Larry Dinger has been Acting U.S. Ambassador since then.

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