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SUVA, Fiji Islands (September 25, 2001 - PINA Nius Online)---Human resource development, distance education and telehealth should be Pacific Islands priorities in developing Information and Communication Technologies, a regional symposium urged this week.

The call came during the Japan/Pacific Islands human resources development symposium at the Sheraton Fiji Resort in Nadi, western Fiji.

During a special session on Information Technology participants also recognized there are two levels of "Digital Divide" which need to be addressed in the Pacific Islands:

The Nadi symposium is among follow-ups to the PALM 2000 Japan-Pacific Islands Leaders’ summit.

The symposium was organized by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), in collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Pacific Islands Forum. It is supported by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who hosted the PALM 2000 summit, and Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase were among the high-level participants.

Participants supported the Micronesian Regional Distance Learning and Telehealth Satellite Telecommunication Network proposal, urging its implementation as an example of what could be done.

This is a joint project of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands to bridge the "digital divide" and support education, health care and economic development.

The proposal has been submitted to the Japanese Government and participants encouraged JICA and other related organisations to assist in implementing it.

Participants also supported the need to greatly enhance the University of the South Pacific's USPNet, funded by Japan, Australia and New Zealand last year.

The former president of Palau, Kuniwo Nakamura, said the digital divide is the cause and effect of the social and economic gap between countries.

He said specific goals of the Micronesian network proposal include lessening the digital divide and enabling Micronesian and other Pacific Islands countries to share resources through Information Technology.

Fiji Assistant Minister for Works, Telecommunications, Energy, Road Transport and Shipping Simione Kaitani said Fiji is trying to develop as a communications hub through use of the Southern Cross cable and other facilities. But he said Fiji needs to deregulate the telecommunications market and pricing.

Rural telecommunications development is also among the priorities, he said.

Tuvalu Minister for Works, Transportation and Communications Teleke Lauti told of the high communication costs caused by the geography of the Pacific Islands.

Samoan Minister for Trade, Commerce and Industry Hans Joachim Keil spoke of encouraging developments in education, with the National University of Samoa offering Information Technology courses.

During remarks at the symposium's opening, Mr. Qarase said: "In this era of high technology and globalization, there is no better source of knowledge and expertise in human resource development for us in the Pacific Islands region to tap than Japan."

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