NAURU PRESIDENT HARRIS SAYS PACIFIC SOLIDARITY BEHIND AFP JOURNALIST FIELD’S

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YAREN, Nauru (August 17, 2001 – Agence France-Presse)---Nauru President Rene Harris Friday denied he had banned an Agence France-Presse correspondent from attending the 16-nation Pacific Forum summit because of his reporting on his country’s tax haven and money laundering activities.

AFP reporter Michael Field was banned from Nauru, following a ban from the same summit last year in Kiribati for his reporting of the pollution in that country. Six years ago he was banned from Tonga over reporting of the kingdom’s sales of citizenships to Asians.

At a press conference Friday Harris said, "We believe we should be consistent with our brothers in the Pacific, Tonga and Tarawa [Kiribati]," he said.

Harris denied the ban had anything to do with Field’s reports on money laundering.

Asked if he wanted Field banned from all summits he replied: "No. It is up to respective members."

He believed the ban was not a blanket one because Field would still be able to receive information from the Forum.

He said New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark raised the issue at the leader’s retreat Friday, which respected the ban.

Clark later told reporters that New Zealanders believed in the right of free speech, regardless of what journalists write about them.

She said Samoan Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sailele pointed out that while he was not particularly happy with what Field had written, he had not been banned from that country.

While countries such as Kiribati found what Field had written about them offensive, she did not believe that was a good enough reason to ban him.

 

JOURNALIST FIELD’S BANNING FROM NAURU, MADE FOR CONSISTENCY SAYS PRESIDENT HARRIS

By Sharon Lundy of NZPA

YAREN, Nauru (August 18, 2001 – New Zealand Press Association)---Nauru banned a New Zealand journalist from covering this year's Pacific Island Forum for the sake of consistency, President Rene Harris said yesterday.

Mr. Harris, speaking after the Forum leaders' retreat, said New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark had questioned him at the meeting over his decision to ban Agence-France Presse reporter Mike Field from entering Nauru for the Forum.

"We believe that we should be consistent with our brothers in the Pacific,'' he said.

"We respected the position of the countries that refused permission for Mike Field to enter Tonga, Kiribati and Nauru.

"We also respect the belief of reporters that they should be able to report the incidents."

Miss Clark later said Mr. Harris' reason was not good enough.

"I don't think it's a good enough reason. I don't think there is any good enough reason, but there's clearly a difference of values involved."

She had told Mr. Harris that, regardless of what journalists wrote about countries and individuals, there was still a right to free speech and free press.

Despite that disagreement, the mood of today's meeting was good, Miss Clark said.

"It was certainly light years on from last year, which was a very difficult meeting,'' she said.

"I think last year really did signal absolutely the end of the old ‘Pacific Way,’ as outlined by Ratu (Sir Kamisese) Mara, where the Forum looked the other way and didn't confront all issues.

"This time there has been preparedness to talk about them without being defensive.''

Miss Clark and Australian Prime Minister John Howard last year clashed with other Forum members over plans to hold this year's event in Fiji, threatening to boycott it rather than attend a meeting in a country without a democratically-elected government.

Former Fiji president Ratu Mara criticized the Forum's "metropolitan members'' -- New Zealand and Australia -- during a keynote address given on his behalf at yesterday's opening ceremony.

"They have not always been ready to show understanding of our problems, and they have sought to impose their solutions in an insensitive way, when left to ourselves we could work things out in what we have come to call the ‘Pacific Way'," Ratu Mara said.

Miss Clark said the issue was not raised at the leaders' retreat and she believed members wanted to look forward, not back.

Meanwhile, Forum members gave unanimous support for the establishment of a South Pacific whaling free sanctuary through national and regional means.

New Zealand and Australia failed in a bid to have a sanctuary established through the International Whaling Commission at its meeting last month.

Yesterday, Miss Clark proposed member countries should each declare their exclusive economic zones whaling free.

"There was complete unanimity on the recommendation that we should pursue the whaling free sanctuary,'' she said.

"At last year's Forum there was considerable disagreement with the idea of a South Pacific whaling free sanctuary.''

She said leaders also discussed Nauru, tax havens, unrest in the region, and Mr. Harris' suggestion they seek discussions with United States President George Bush on the US rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.

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