FIJI HITS BACK AT NEW ZEALAND'S FORUM VENUE LOBBYING

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 19, 2000 - PINA Nius Online)---A Fiji Interim Government Minister yesterday described New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff as culturally arrogant, and insensitive to Pacific Islands Forum leaders.

Minister for Information Ratu Inoke Kubuabola was responding to reports in the local media that Mr. Goff was lobbying Pacific Islands governments for next year’s Forum meeting not be held in Fiji.

Ratu Inoke said that these lobbying efforts only go to show the depth of Mr. Goff's ignorance of the Forum and his lack of respect and courtesy for Forum Island leaders.

He said: "At the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Kiribati in October, the Forum Leaders had discussed the venue for next year’s meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum. It was unanimously agreed that the venue for next year’s Forum meeting would be left to the current chairman of the Forum, and that is the President of Kiribati, to decide.

"If New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Phil Goff, is now going round the region lobbying Pacific Islands governments to shift the venue for next year’s Forum Meeting from Fiji to Niue, he is actually acting in total disregard of this collective decision of Forum leaders at the Kiribati Forum. It is an act of gross disrespect for the Forum chairman.

"At the meeting in Kiribati, the Forum leaders, reaffirmed that the venue for the annual meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum should be based on an alphabetical rotation. On the basis of that principle, Fiji would be the next country to host a Forum meeting. In fact, it was Fiji¹s turn to host the Forum meeting in 1999, but in the Pacific Way, Fiji had deferred to a request from Palau to host that year’s meeting.

"Fiji did it again this year out of courtesy to a request from Kiribati. However, Fiji made it clearly known in Kiribati that it was ready and prepared to host next year’s Forum meeting, in accordance with the accepted alphabetical order.

"It was then that (New Zealand) intervened and lobbied for Niue. It is not Niue’s alphabetical turn. The only ground for proposing Niue as next year’s venue for the Forum meeting is NZ’s celebration of the 100th year of its colonial relationship with Niue when Niue became a colonial dependency of NZ."

Niue's bid is gaining support, Mr. Goff had said during a visit to Niue.

Mr. Goff - who has been on a regional tour - said Vanuatu is now also backing Niue and he hopes Tonga will too. Mr. Goff visited both countries.

New Zealand's Labour Party Prime Minister Helen Clark - a strong critic of the ousting of the Labour-led government in Fiji - said she would not take part if the meeting is held in Fiji.

Mr. Goff said Niue deserves to host the Forum and he offered assistance from New Zealand to organize the event.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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