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July 13, 2000

Vanuatu's Prime Minister, Hon. Maautamate Barak Sope, has called on Forum member states to find more effective means of responding to emerging security issues, which threaten the region's development.

The Prime Minister was opening the Forum Regional Security Committee meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, which runs for three days.

"The timing of this year's FRSC is very critical, especially at a time when at least two countries within the Forum family are faced with very serious security challenges which have resulted in political unrest, open conflict, loss of life and properties.

"At no other time is the expectation of our region highest of this Committee to come up with concrete and decisive recommendations for regional action for Forum Leaders to consider and endorse at their summit in Kiribati (in October).

"While security issues and other related matters are a sovereign duty of national governments, there is much to be gained through collective regional and sub-regional approaches. At a time when national governments are reassessing their respective institutions of governance with a view to enhancing them, the region must be prepared to face the reality and review its perspectives, its way of doing things and its priorities," said Prime Minister Sope.

The Secretary General of the South Pacific Forum Secretariat, Mr. Noel Levi, CBE, told the security meeting that there were no easy answers or quick fix solutions to the political unrest.

"There is no easy answer and certainly no quick fix solution to address the causes of instability that are now causing havoc in a number of our member countries, except perhaps for stronger regional political will and commitment to the principles of democracy, good governance, accountability and the rule of law," Mr. Levi said.

"We meet at a time when the unity, stability and in particular, the security of the region is under severe pressure and the expectations from around the region of the Committee is never higher.

"The Forum Leaders at their meeting in Palau last year noted with concern that, while the region remains relatively stable, the security environment had become more fluid and uncertain with globalization which has brought new and emerging threats to the region. These include international financial crime, cyber crime, Y2K issues, people smuggling, increasing incidents of civil unrest and drug trafficking, most of which required new investigative and evidence gathering techniques to ensure successful prosecution of criminals. The impact of climate change and illegal fishing were also recognized as posing continuing threats to members," Mr. Levi said.

The Forum Secretariat commissioned a study this year by Professor Ron Crocombe to look at the security issues confronting the region and how member states could work together to address these concerns. The study will be presented at the FRSC meeting in Port Vila for consideration.

"Under the 1997 Aitutaki Declaration, Forum Leaders noted that the most immediate risks to security in the region hinged on regional and domestic developments, including natural disasters, transnational crime including drug trafficking, and economic, social and environment policies.

"Recent developments in two of our member countries are a matter of concern not only to the countries themselves but also to the region as a whole," said Mr. Levi. These concerns are expected to be addressed in a session on mechanisms for preventive diplomacy.

The FRSC will also receive updates on the implementation of the 1992 Honiara Declaration on Law Enforcement Cooperation. A number of Forum members have received legal drafting assistance through the Forum Secretariat to help enact relevant legislation in line with this regional effort.

Discussions will also consider a uniform approach to boost anti-drug legislation in the region. This reflects a concern that existing drug legislation needs to keep pace with rapid advances in technology.

Other items on the agenda include joint initiatives to address the problem of money laundering, some of which are coordinated with specialist agencies both within and outside the region.

In addition to senior officials from Forum member states, the FRSC also has input from specialist law enforcement bodies in the region such as the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO); the South Pacific Chiefs of Police Conference (SPCPC); the Pacific Immigration Directors Conference (PIDC), the Pacific Islands Law Officers Meeting (PILOM) and the Regional Heads of Prisons Meeting (RHPM).

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