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SYDNEY, Australia (August 4, 2001 – Asia Times Online/Asia Pulse/Kabar-Irian)---Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard has decided to snub this year's South Pacific Forum summit, scheduled to be held on August 16 in Nauru. A spokesman for Howard said he was already visiting Indonesia's new president on August 12 and 13 and had decided not to make two overseas trips in the one week, Australian media reported on Friday.

A spokesman for federal opposition leader Kim Beazley said problems in the South Pacific region were mounting and required urgent Australian leadership.

Howard has twice before pulled out of Forum meetings, in 1998 and 1999. This year, adding insult to injury, the Australian media were informed of Howard's cancellation before any expression of regret was sent to the Fiji-based Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat or Nauru as the host nation.

The prime minister faces bitter criticism from atoll nations over his decision not to ratify the Kyoto protocol on global warming.

And secessionists from Irian Jaya claim successive Australian governments have failed to take a strong enough stand on Indonesian human rights abuses in the province, the newspaper said.

Many of the island nations are struggling with developmental, environmental and social problems, and view the gathering as the one big chance in a year to get the attention of their two most important neighbors, Australia and New Zealand.

The forum comes as Fiji faces crucial post-coup elections within weeks; the Solomon Islands fights allegations of high-level corruption over the distribution of foreign aid aimed; and Papua New Guinea tries to calm recent political violence, including the killing of student protesters.

For additional reports from the Asia Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Asia Times Online: Oceania.

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