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NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Nov. 12, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---Tonga has confirmed it is still bidding to host the new regional headquarters of what is known as the Tuna Commission.

A Tongan government statement said it is sending a three-person delegation this week to push its case in meetings in Manila, which are expected to make decisions on where the headquarters will be.

Tonga was unhappy with an earlier Forum Fisheries Agency vote to support the candidature of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. The Tongans said a study commissioned by the agency had recommended Nuku‘alofa as best suited.

Papua New Guinea, another leading candidate, was also unhappy with the vote and circumstances surrounding it.

Tonga is one of only three countries attending the Manila meetings that have met the deadline in submitting a bid, the Tongan government statement said.

The Preparatory Conference for the establishment of the Commission for Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Region opens in Manila on Monday.

But before this a meeting of Pacific islands fisheries officials, also in Manila, is expected to try to settle the controversy over the Pacific islands candidate.

The Honiara-based Forum Fisheries Agency is trying to get its members to come up with a single candidate supported by them all to ensure the headquarters is in the region.

The Federated States of Micronesia capital of Pohnpei was selected at a similar meeting earlier this year in Papua New Guinea.

If Pohnpei is confirmed as the headquarters, it will become the first North Pacific island to host a major regional organization.

Doreen deBrum-Jurelang, a fisheries official with the Marshall Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the special Forum Fisheries Committee meeting will be held in Manila on Thursday and Friday.

The headquarters issue is one of the top items on the agenda.

She indicated that in addition to all of the Federated States of Micronesia¹s immediate North Pacific neighbors, several South Pacific countries have pledged to again support Pohnpei.

The hosting of the commission secretariat is being competed for because of the benefits such a regional agency headquarters can bring the host country.

The commission is the organizational body proposed to manage the harvest of the region's fish stocks.

The Federated States of Micronesia has said its resubmitted proposal fulfilled and expanded on the criteria established earlier this year.

The final decision on the location of the headquarters will be made by the commission itself, once it is established.

The agreement establishing the Convention for the Conservation and Management of the Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean was adopted in September 2000 in Honolulu.

It came after four years of complex negotiations between the coastal states of the Western and Central Pacific and states fishing in the region.

The convention is one of the first regional fisheries agreements to be adopted since the conclusion in 1995 of the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.

The convention's objective is to ensure, through effective management, the long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

This would be done in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.

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