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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Aug. 22) – Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) leaders have endorsed the establishment of a regional security force among other issues at the end of their two-day summit in Goroka, in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands province over the weekend.

The leaders also endorsed plans to find employment for spouses of Melanesian professionals in MSG countries, a regional air services agreement, a revised MSG trade agreement and other issues.

The summit ended with the signing of a join communiqué on Saturday.

No details were immediately available on the regional force, however, while opening the leader’s meeting last Friday, summit chairman and PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare strongly expressed that there is need for the establishment of a regional rapid response force in the Pacific Islands region.

Sir Michael said he took note of the "cautious reception" by some to the proposal, but said there is need for a rapid response force to assist with response to natural disasters and political instability.

"I believe such a need exists for such a mechanism to be established. In addition, our successful cooperation in Bougainville and under RAMSI shows that the proposal is feasible," he said.

Speaking after the summit, Sir Michael described the summit as "quite successful" because they had "very constructive and fruitful discussions" in which Fiji and Vanuatu agreed to end their trade row over kava and biscuit imports.

"We have covered a whole range of issues from political to security, trade and economic matters, as well as social concerns," said Sir Michael.

Two days before the leaders’ summit, foreign affairs ministers met in a separate meeting and made recommendations to the prime ministers and heads of delegations to adopt. Among them was the issue of harmonization of labour and immigration laws for spouses to be able to find employment when moving with their husbands or wives.

At present, spouses do not get work permits but the MSG leaders have agreed that laws should be changed to allow for it to happen and PNG has been given the task to prepare a paper on the issue for it to be discussed in the next senior officials meeting (SOM) next year.

The leaders also agreed that legal migration of professionals and their superannuation benefits be transferred between MSG countries.

PNG Foreign Affairs Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu said on Friday there were problems for spouses obtaining work permits and professionals having access their superannuation benefits.

The MSG leaders agreed with the foreign ministers’ recommendation that each country’s regulations must be changed to cater for the problem.

MSG leaders also agreed to revive the Melanesian Arts Festival (MAF) and Melanesian Soccer Cup tournament.

Fiji had agreed to host the Melanesian Arts Festival next year. The leaders agreed to wait for Fiji revert to come up with development details.

Vanuatu had earlier called for the revival of the Melanesian Arts Festival (MAF) to "ensure continuity and maintenance of Melanesian culture and traditions with the view towards strengthening solidarity among MSG states.

The revival of MSG Cup Soccer Tournament is also being considered and Fiji would liaise with football associations and federations in the MSG in order to resume the tournament.

August 23, 2005

The National:

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