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MEDIA RELEASE 30th South Pacific Forum Koror, Palau October 4, 1999

Representatives of the Fiji East Timor Action Group (FETAG) yesterday presented a petition to Fiji’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Tupeni Baba, in Koror, Palau, calling on the Fiji government to put East Timor on the agenda of the 30th South Pacific Forum. Dr. Baba is representing Fiji at the 30th South Pacific Forum meeting currently under way this week.

FETAG is urging the Fiji government to support observer status for East Timor at the South Pacific Forum during their transition to independence, and the creation of a South Pacific Forum fact-finding mission to assess the needs of the people of East Timor.

FETAG includes Fiji and regional non-government organizations and church groups. The Action group is also calling for the South Pacific Forum to support the establishment of an International Criminal Tribunal to bring to justice those involved in the terror, rape, killings and other forms of human rights abuses and genocide on the people of East Timor.

In accepting the petition, Dr. Baba stated that Fiji was willing to support East Timor but would await formal word from the East Timorese leadership before any undertaking.

Mr. Baba made it known that Fiji was not sending peacekeepers to East Timor right away because of the combatant nature of the first phase of the peacekeeping mission. He also stated that the Fiji government could not afford to finance the $5 million cost of sending peacekeepers to East Timor as the United Nations still owes the Fiji government US$11 million for other peacekeeping operations.

However, Baba said that Fiji would support East Timor, and would be better placed to assist in the second phase of the peacekeeping mission to help with the training of the local population in the rebuilding of East Timor.

FETAG representative Stanley Simpson says the assurances were welcome. "The building of civil society is a crucial part in the rebuilding of East Timor. Pacific Governments and NGO’s can and should assist in the rebuilding of East Timor in their transition to independence, as most have the experience of more than twenty years of independence," he said.

"Pacific governments and NGO’s can help in providing training in health services, counseling, education and public awareness for the people of East Timor."

FETAG is currently coordinating a fundraising campaign to raise funds to help facilitate efforts for NGO and community work in East Timor. The campaign ends on World Human Rights Day, December 10, 1999.

For more information, contact Stanley Simpson on (680) 488 8019, or 488 1671 (after hours).

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