ISLANDS MAY SPLIT OVER FORUM SECRETARY GENERAL JOB

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (August 14, 2002 – Post-Courier)---Nauru has joined the race for the position of Pacific Islands Forum secretary general, bringing to two the number of contenders for the job.

The island state has submitted the name of former finance minister Vince Clodumar and has already begun lobbying member countries.

Australia has already made public its interest in securing the job for former diplomat Greg Urwin, who has also served as ambassador to Fiji.

No comment could be obtained from Nauru authorities, as the delegation attending the Forum had not arrived as of yesterday afternoon. Telecom was also unable to connect calls to Nauru yesterday.

Mr. Urwin has said he was vying for the position because it was an opportunity to serve a region to which he has devoted most of his working life.

Yesterday, the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre joined outgoing Secretary General Noel Levi in criticizing Australia’s interest in securing the post. In a statement yesterday, PCRC said the appointment of an Australian would threaten the future of the 32-year-old organization.

Director Motarilavoa Lini said since its formation, island countries had protested against the inclusion of Australia and New Zealand "on the basis that they did not really share our problems, our Pacific way of thinking and they could dominate discussions to the jeopardy of the islands.

"Australia’s influence in the Forum up to now has severely weakened the position of island countries on political and environmental issues, such as nuclear free zone, climate change, West Papua and plutonium shipments. Now Australia is trying to turn the Forum into its own little institution,’’ Ms. Lini said.

She said Australia had consistently undermined regional solidarity to its own advantage and promoted regionalism only when it suited its agenda.

"They have undermined and weakened us enough and our leaders must make a stand,’’ Ms. Lini said.

Mr. Levi has said Australia’s move to end a 30-year convention that the position is always held by Pacific Islanders could split the 16-nation group.

The issue is certain to be informally discussed during this week’s Pacific Islands Forum summit meeting in Suva.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is expected to continue lobbying for Mr. Urwin to take over when Mr. Levi’s term ends next year.

Mr. Levi had said if Australia is seen to be trying to dominate the Forum it could lead to moves to form an islands-only organization, excluding Australia and New Zealand.

Three North Pacific members — Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Palau — have already discussed the move.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

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