TARAWA, Kiribati (October 28, 2000 - PINA Nius Online)---Smaller Island States meeting in Kiribati have stressed the importance of Fiji as a regional hub for transport and other services.

The Smaller Island States - Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu - are a sub-group of the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum, which meets this weekend in Kiribati.

Radio Australia's Pacific Islands specialist, Sean Dorney, reported from Tarawa that the smaller island states made no direct reference to the suggestion that Fiji face sanctions because of the May coup crisis.

However they pointedly acknowledged that economic factors meant that they continued to rely on Fiji as a hub for regional flights for aircraft that service their countries, he said.

Pacific Island Forum leaders are sharply divided over an Australian and New Zealand push for a mechanism to censure countries that abandon democratic principles.

Dorney reported that at the officials meeting that preceded the opening of the Pacific islands Forum, diplomats from countries such as Papua New Guinea have been accusing Australia and New Zealand of trying to push their views onto the rest of the Pacific community.

A suggestion that the Forum should adopt a declaration similar to the Harare declaration under which countries can be suspended from the Commonwealth is likely to be dropped, Dorney said.

The summit of Smaller Island States also expressed concern at the lack of progress on the ratification of the Kyoto protocol on green house emissions by industrialized countries.

Improving their air services was one of the issues to feature.

The Smaller Island States Summit discussed improving coordination of air services and noted a report on Air Pacific, a Forum Secretariat communiqué said.

It said they agreed that developing better air services, including frequency and reliability is a key to the establishment of a firm economic foundation.

It was also noted that the Central Pacific members of the Smaller Island States were taking some action amongst themselves to overcome the problems related to air services.

The Summit noted that all Smaller Island States countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol but expressed concern at the lack of progress on ratification by industrial countries, and that these should now pay urgent attention to the matter.

The Smaller Island States recognized the vital role played by information technology in promoting improved trade, tourism and education and expressed concern at the prohibitive costs of Internet service in the region.

Meanwhile, Radio Australia reported the incoming chair of the Forum, Kiribati President, Teburoro Tito, acknowledged there's cultural sympathy throughout the region for the West Papuan independence movement.

President Tito said the issue will be discussed at the Forum leaders retreat in Tarawa, but said some leaders would prefer the forum not to express a view.

West Papuan Separatists, with the support of Nauru and Vanuatu, have succeeded in getting the push for West Papua Independence from Indonesian rule discussed.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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