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By Walter Nalangu Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation

BRISBANE, Australia (March 2, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza has told a Commonwealth meeting of the causes and consequences of ethnic tension in his island nation.

Sir Allan spoke on the issue of ethnic rivalry during the Ministerial Group on Small States meeting Friday.

This was held before the formal Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) opening in the Queensland resort area of Coolum.

The small states meeting considered issues vital to Commonwealth countries with populations under 1.5 million.

Sir Allan told the meeting what his country has gone through over the past few years, including thousands forced from their homes, deadly conflict, and financial crisis.

This ethnic conflict has seen warfare between militia forces from the islands of Guadalcanal (site of the capital, Honiara) and Malaita (where many people in living in Honiara and its surround area have come from).

The crisis came amid ethnic conflict in two Pacific Islands neighbors of the Solomon Islands: Papua New Guinea (Bougainville secessionist war) and Fiji (indigenous Fijian-led coups).

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Sir Allan talked at length about the impact of ethnic conflict in relation to stability and prosperity.

Mr. Downer, meanwhile, defended Australia's decision not to ratify the Kyoto agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, and its position on climate change.

The issue of greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on global warming and rising sea levels were discussed at the small states meeting, which includes 32 of the Commonwealth's 54 nations.

Mr. Downer said the meeting recognized concerns of small island nations, which felt vulnerable to the problems of climate change.

But Mr. Downer defended Australia's decision to sign an agreement with the United States to work together on scientific research on climate change, instead of backing the Kyoto agreement.

Mr. Downer said: "Quite the contrary to the suggestions of some people that this is an attempt to torpedo the Kyoto protocol, this is actually an attempt to work with a country, the United States, which has enormous scientific sophistication."

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair has already expressed concern about the lack of support for Kyoto and said he expects climate change to be discussed at CHOGM.

Environmentalists have accused Australia of trying to keep climate change off the main CHOGM agenda because of its own poor record.

Other key issues considered by the Commonwealth Small States are understood to have included:

§ global market access for small nations;

§ financial reforms;

§ health and education.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon confirmed to journalists that there were not as many presidents and prime ministers attending CHOGM as normal. This followed the postponement of the meeting last October after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The Commonwealth Secretariat was expecting 35 leaders to be there and 16 other countries to be represented at the ministerial level.

Among the first Pacific Islands prime ministers to arrive were Fiji's Laisenia Qarase, Tonga's Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka ‘Ata, Tuvalu's Koloa Talake, and Vanuatu's Edward Natapei.

Mr. McKinnon also outlined some of the issues that will be high on the agenda for the leaders to discuss, saying terrorism is at the top of the list.

Other topics for discussion include the Commonwealth's fundamental values, global economic developments and the problems facing "small states," he said.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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