PACIFIC ISLANDS GO ON INTERNATIONAL OFFENSIVE OVER RISING SEA LEVELS

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By Walter Nalangu Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation

YAREN, Nauru (August 18, 2001 - PINA Nius Online)---Pacific Islands countries meeting in Nauru have gone on the offensive over the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, taking their fears about rising sea levels to the world.

In two key decisions at the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum summit:

§ The Small Island States sub-group meeting decided to directly appeal to America's President George W. Bush to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. They will also raise their voices at the United Nations.

§ And the communiqué of the full Forum will say "most members" are concerned about America's refusal to ratify the protocol, despite Australian efforts to block Forum criticism of the Americans.

The Small Island States sub-group meeting agreed they should try to meet President Bush and also raise the issue at the United Nations General Assembly in October.

Forum host President Rene Harris, of Nauru, a member of the Small Island States group, said: "We in the Pacific have very low-lying islands and I myself classify it as a modern holocaust if we don't attend to the problem of rising sea levels.

"We certainly believe that it is worth every effort on our part to convince the rest of the world and George Bush about the harmful effects of rising sea levels."

The Small Island States group includes three of the low-lying atoll countries most threatened by rising sea levels caused by global warming:

Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu. The other members are the Cook Islands, Niue, and Nauru.

At the main Forum's meetings, Australian officials had argued that island nations should await a United States policy review to see what alternatives Washington comes up with.

But a number of island states signaled they would push for a strongly worded resolution highlighting lack of progress towards agreement on enforcing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Last month the Melanesian Spearhead Group summit - Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia's Kanaks - criticized the American approach and the backing it got from Australia.

President Harris, speaking after the Forum leaders' retreat where consensus is normally reached on contentious issues, said: "We ... noted concerns expressed by most members over the United States intention not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and agreed the Forum urge the United States to reconsider its position and ratify the Kyoto Protocol."

In other key developments from the Forum leaders' retreat:

Tax Havens

Island leaders strongly objected to Pacific Islands tax havens being blacklisted by the world's leading industrialized nations through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The leaders rejected OECD threats of a crackdown and said until agreements were reached with the OECD on appropriate taxation standards, sanctions should not be instituted.

"The Forum reaffirmed the sovereign right of nations to develop domestic tax regimes of their own choosing," President Harris said.

The leaders supported greater transparency as part of efforts to stop money laundering.

Regional Trade

President Harris said the leaders endorsed the Pacific Agreement for Closer Economic Relations [PACER] and the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement [PICTA] proposed by Forum trade ministers.

PACER is a trade and economic cooperation umbrella agreement applying to all 16 Forum members, including Australia and New Zealand. PICTA establishes a free trade area among the 14 island members of the Forum.

West Papua

On West Papua, ruled by the Indonesians as their province of Irian Jaya, the leaders expressed concern about violence and loss of life and supported greater autonomy but not independence.

President Harris said the Forum is encouraging the Indonesian government to ensure that the voices of all parties are heard in order to achieve a peaceful resolution of their differences.

He said Forum leaders agreed comprehensive autonomy would contribute to this and welcomed the presentation of special autonomy proposals to Indonesia's parliament.

Leaders urged all parties to protect and help uphold human rights and agreed to closely follow developments in West Papua, which borders Forum member Papua New Guinea and is south of Palau.

New Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri on Thursday apologized to West Papua/Irian Jaya for human rights abuses, but said it would never gain independence.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark told reporters there had been a change in position among some islands nations that had earlier backed the West Papuan independence cause. It followed changes of government in Nauru and Vanuatu since last year's Forum.

Political Normalcy

The Forum leaders reaffirmed their support on initiatives being taken by some member countries to restore political normalcy, especially in Fiji, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.

Pacific Islands Forum members are: Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

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

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