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By Timothy Naivaluwaqa

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Oct. 24) –Security concerns of New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark were put to rest yesterday after she was greeted by the largest contingent of guards assigned to any of the Forum leaders.

Ms Clark and Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon arrived at the Sheraton Villas on Denarau Island in a motorcade which comprised more than 10 vehicles. Among those in the motorcade were officers from the Police Tactical Response Division dressed as if they were going to war.

The officers were wearing bulletproof vests with some carrying gas masks and smoke grenades.

Soon after arriving at the Villas, Ms Clark was whisked away to her room.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who arrived at Sheraton Fiji Resort about an hour earlier, was also heavily guarded by members of his own security team. His security detail was strengthened by members of the Fiji Police Force.

Mr Howard was swamped by media personnel as he was escorted to his suite through the resort's lobby.

Welcomed by the friendly voices of hotel employees, Mr Howard later remarked during a press conference that the palm breezes of the South Pacific would be able to resolve differences between leaders.

Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes said he would be making a statement on security later in the week.

Mr Hughes said he had just returned from abroad and he was fully occupied with arrangements for the forum.

Assistant Police Commissioner Operations Samuela Matakibau said all foreign protection officers who arrived in the country were required to hand over all firearms to the Customs officers.

Mr Matakibau said following the handover, the firearms were given to police for safekeeping.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, Josefa Vosanibola has reassured that security for leaders attending the leaders meeting is in good control.

Mr Vosanibola said security had been well coordinated from the point of disembarking from the plane, their road travel up to their stay in the hotel.

He said the police, military and naval forces were all working together to assure a high level of security for the visiting dignitaries.

Meanwhile, United States congressman [Eni] Faleomavaega said he was extremely disappointed in the U.S. State Department's failure to consult about American Samoa's application for observer status at the Pacific Forum.

"As of last evening, I learned through the media that the U.S. State Department has asked the Secretary General to withdraw American Samoa's application for observer status at the Pacific Forum,'' he said. "I am fully aware that the State Department is the lead agency on matters affecting U.S. foreign policies and membership with the Pacific Forum and other international organisations. However, I was blindsided that American Samoa had even submitted an application and I was disappointed that the State Department failed to inform me of American Samoa's application before asking the secretary general to defer action on the Territory's application."

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