MORE ON DEATH THREATS TO COOK ISLANDS PRIME MINISTER AND DEPUTY PM

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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (September 17, 1999 – Cook Islands Star)---While Cook Islanders are still reeling at news, speculation, charges and denials that their country is a hub for big time drug smuggling in the South Pacific, they have now had to enter the debate on whether or not their two top political leaders have been the victims of death threats --and worse, if those death threats are related to the allegations that people resident in Cook Islands are drug dealing.

Deputy Prime Minister Norman George dropped the bombshell on the public recently during his morning talkback show on Radio Cook Islands, saying that both he and Prime Minister Dr. Joe Williams had received death threats.

The Cook Islands public, spurred on by an unsympathetic if not hostile local newspaper, could be forgiven for accepting allegations that the report was a smokescreen for revelations that the DPM had put some of his own adult kids on the public payroll. A street poll conducted last week on Rarotonga had 61% of respondents saying they thought the threats were not real.

Government’s refusal to disclose evidence backing up the death threat claims had of course left the debate to rage unabated and left some elements of the media to have a field day at the top politician’s expense.

Cook Islands News cartoonist Tim Buchanan along with junior reporter and wife Florence Buchanan, recently publicly criticized for an apparent campaign to discredit the top leaders, have not let up on their attack. For three editions, Tim’s cartoons, under the pen name Kata, were drawn to belittle the story and make the PM and DPM appear to be either paranoid or hoping to deflect criticism with the death threat reports.

EVIDENCE OF THREATS

Cook Islands Star is not free to reveal details, but can report without reservation that an intelligence agency of a Commonwealth Government has supplied, in writing, a precise, clear and detailed report alleging that persons resident in the Cook Islands are part of a plot to assassinate political leaders in the Cook Islands.

This document was in Government’s hands prior to the DPM’s first public announcement of the threats. There was careful debate among those privy to the information as to whether it’s contents would be made public. In the end, PM Williams made the decision to keep the document out of the public domain at the time. Given the unrelenting attack and apparent bias of the local newspaper, accompanied by the majority public feeling that it was all a sham, the PM and his inner circle would appear not only vindicated but due a major apology from their attackers.

Cook Islands Star asked a month ago in its lead story if the assassination in Samoa could be repeated in the Cook Islands. In the following issue we revealed the DPM’s allegations that persons in the Cook Islands were involved in a major drug operation a decade ago and deserved to be in jail for life. Again, some elements in the local media took it all for a big joke and used the local newspaper as their platform.

With the death threats now known to be real, Cook Islanders will have to think again about the drug dealing allegations as well as think about having to look beyond the local media to get at the truth of what is really going on.

Usually it is the media complaining about government manipulation of the truth. Looks like the tables are turned in Cook Islands at the moment.

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