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By Terry Tavita

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Aug. 20) - The appointment of an
Australian to head the largest and most influential regional organization will
undermine some of the pertinent issues facing Pacific Islands states, says a
leading local environmentalist.

Fiu Mataese, president of Le Si'osi'omaga Society, is wary of
how environment concerns will be addressed by the Pacific Islands Forum
Secretariat, now that Greg Urwin has been elected Secretary-General.

He said that in the past, Australia has given concerns raised by
small island states the cold shoulder. These include concerns over global
warming and climate change and support for the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas

"While small islands states have been lobbying for the
reduction of green house emissions for years, Australia to date has still not
ratified the Kyoto protocol," he said. "Like the U.S., it has signaled
that it prioritizes domestic economics over global environment concerns."

Yet these environmental concerns, he said, are threatening the
existence of low-lying island states like Kiribati and Tuvalu.

"Pacific islands states remain the most vulnerable to these
climate changes, widely understood to be induced by greenhouse gases," he

Fiu believes that Pacific Island countries were heavily
influenced by economics and the promise of Australian aid when they voted for Mr
Urwin in Auckland last week.

Mr Urwin's main rival had been Samoa's environment minister,
Tuala Sale Tagaloa.

Fiu said: "Of course we are thankful for all the assistance
that Australia has granted in the past and continues to do so. But it should not
take precedence over the more cumulative issues that face island states."

Fiu also said that the heavy handed manner in which Australia
brought about the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) leaves
much to be desired.

PACER simply means that if Forum Island countries ever wish to
enter into a free trade agreement with another country outside the region,
Australia and New Zealand will be given first preference, he said.

He said: "The Forum island states wanted to set up their
own free trade agreement under PICTA, but Australia also wanted influence on any
trade in the region thus they insisted on PACER."

Fiu's concerns are echoed in a statement by another prominent
Non Government Organization based in Fiji.

The Pacific Concerns Resource Center (PCRC) described
Australia's proposals for the region as a full-fledged re-colonization process
to continue exercising control over Pacific Islands nations.

It called on Pacific governments, not to accept these at face
value in their hunger for Australia's aid money.

The center said it was referring to what it said was Australia's
confidential briefing to Forum leaders proposing a radical European Union type

Center director Motarilavoa Hilda Lini said: "Any proposal
for 'commonness' must be based on respect for sovereignty and built on a truly
genuine relationship as well as addressing the common needs and issues that are
attached to the hearts of Pacific islanders."

The center said it is outraged at reports which suggest that
Pacific leaders voted for Mr Urwin because they "were concerned that
Australia would scale down its commitment and aid to the region if Australia's
candidate was not selected".

The center said that Australian aid or any other aid money for
that matter has not benefited or improved the situation of Pacific communities
in the past. In fact it has contributed more to political corruption, upheavals
and conflicts, it said.

Ms Lini added: "We expect our Pacific leaders to tread with
wisdom in national and regional diplomacy and not let Pacific islands
sovereignty disappear through slippery 'dollar hands' like it happened recently
at the Pacific Islands Forum."

August 26, 2003

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