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MELBOURNE, Australia (October 25, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---Pacific leaders are gathering in Kiribati for the 31st Pacific Islands Forum, which gets under way on Friday.

Despite the conflicts in Fiji and Solomon Islands this year, those events will not be a part of the official agenda.

"They (Fiji and Solomons) are not direct subjects to be addressed at the Forum, but they will be covered in a report that has come out of the Foreign Ministers meeting that was held several months ago (in Apia)," said Pacific Beat correspondent Sean Dorney, who will be covering the meeting.

"There is an attempt to develop some sort of a process for Pacific Islands countries to react in a crisis. What we’ve seen this year is Australia and New Zealand both being critical - especially about what went on in Fiji - and some island countries being more reticent to condemn activities there," Dorney said.

There is also uncertainty regarding whether Fiji interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase will attend. It is possible that former deputy Prime Minister Dr. Tupeni Baba may attend in his place.

"The Fiji diplomats have been trying to gauge what sort of reception (Qarase) might receive if he does turn up," Dorney said.

However, a delegation from West Papua is sure to attend the meeting, Dorney said.

"That could be an interesting issue because two of the island countries, Nauru and Vanuatu, have both declared their full support of the independence of Irian Jaya, West Papua," he said. "But it’s something Papua New Guinea really doesn’t want on the agenda or to get raised very strongly because of its concerns with Indonesia. Papua New Guinea (which borders Irian Jaya) is extremely sensitive to what Jakarta thinks."

Friday evening’s formal opening session will be held in Tarawa’s new AUS$ 10 million (US$ 5 million) Parliament building complex.

The leaders will also participate in a retreat on a tiny atoll in North Tarawa. The media is restricted from covering the retreat.

Leaders will discuss issues that include shipment of nuclear waste through the Pacific and free trade among Pacific Island countries. Other issues of concern, particularly to atoll nations, that also will be discussed include greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and sea-level rising.

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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