By Michael Field

KOROR, Palau (October 3, 1999 – Agence France-Pressse)---Pacific nations remain too dependent on powers outside the Oceania region and should take action to translate their words into actions, Palau’s President Kuniwo Nakamura told the opening here Sunday of the 30th annual South Pacific Forum summit.

The 16-nation summit held its formal opening session in the tiny Palau Senate chamber ahead of an all-day retreat Monday.

Nakamura, who will chair the Forum for the next year, noted what he said was an "apparent inability" of the Forum to turn its words into actions.

"At times the Forum can appear to be a debating society rather than an effective toil for international action."

Despite a rich culture and the inspiration and ability of Pacific peoples "we often find it difficult to speak with one voice."

The Forum needed to be revitalized and re-invigorated, he said.

"However, it did have a proven track record in some areas, such as advocating greater political freedom for the French territory of New Caledonia. Its potential was shown in the fact that countries were seeking observer status and this Forum will see New Caledonia and the United Nations accorded that status."

There are also nine nations and regional bodies that take part in dialogue sessions with the Forum and the Philippines is actively seeking this status.

Nakamura noted the situation in East Timor and expressed concern that it could have a "destabilizing effect" on the region.

He noted, too, that the improved communications services in the Pacific were bringing the world to the Pacific, but were also making it easier for international crime to operate in the region.

The Forum meets here for two days, the first time the summit has been held in this Micronesian nation.

Its remoteness and poor air services have, however, ensured a low turnout of leaders. Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Fiji Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry are among the absences.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley arrived here Sunday after an hour-long stop over in Papua New Guinea where she met Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta.

East Timor independence leader Jose Ramos Horta has previously said he would want Timor to become an observer in the Forum rather than join the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Morauta had no view on Timor’s application but he told reporters his country was being cautious with Indonesia with which it shares a land border.

"It is obvious that the people of Timor have voted for a government of their own," he said, adding PNG had no formal involvement in Timor.

"We have to be particularly careful because of our closeness to the island..... (The border) is very peaceful and people are coming and going... very little friction, so far."

Among the items to be discussed will be the Anglo-French nuclear shipments through the Pacific and last week’s nuclear accident in Japan; a proposed regional free trade zone which Europe is pressing for to replace the Lomé Convention preferences which expire in 2001 and a unified upper atmosphere air traffic control system. The United States and Australia are pushing control systems which will allow the entire region to be controlled from one place, either Brisbane in Australia or Oakland in California.

Last year’s Forum backed a proposed Southern Ocean whale sanctuary but Japan has been working behind the scenes to get the decision reversed. It is believed to have the backing of Tonga and the Solomon Islands.

The forum annually brings together leaders from Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomons, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: [email protected]  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: 

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