MARSHALLS COP SUED FOR REMOVING PROTEST BILLBOARDS

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By Aenet Rowa

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Yokwe, Oct. 17) – The clean-up of Majuro, the capital atoll of the Marshall Islands, for the Second Taiwan-Allied Pacific Leaders' Summit, included more than just fresh paint, trash collection, and dirt-busting. It is reported that sign-breaking was included in last minute preparations.

A lawsuit, filed in Majuro this week, claims that a National police officer of the Republic of the Marshall Islands led a group of prisoners in taking down five plywood billboards which were erected on private properties. The signs all bore the same message, "Taiwan, Welcome, But Not in Our Internal Affairs."

According to the plaintiffs, the group broke the plywood signs and stashed them near the public works facility in Delap, on Friday morning, October 12, before President Chen's arrival. Reportedly, policeman Langidrik Mote was dressed in full-uniform and was using a government vehicle.

Traditional leader Jurelang Zedkeia, Kejjo Bien, and Francis Houriuchi, brought the suit, now civil action 2007-187, against Mote, in his individual capacity. Attorney James McCaffrey is representing the plaintiffs.

Some political observers say that this episode will add fuel to mounting criticisms directed toward the current Republic of the Marshall Islands Administration in regard to government transparency and freedom of speech. These same issues are at the center of controversy over a 100-foot floating dry dock within city limits, which is opposed by many citizens.

Taiwan provided the US$5 million for the new Conference Center, dedicated during the Summit. It is the second largest contributor in monetary and development support to the Marshall Islands. President Chen has made several visits to the Marshalls. Last June, Republic of the Marshall Islands President Kessai Note visited Taiwan, his sixth visit during eight years in office.

Speculation as to who gave the order for the "clean-up" continues as the news spread through the Marshallese communities at home and abroad. Within hours of the sign removal, the "breaking" news was posted on the Marshallese website, Yokwe Online. The news has been carried in Majuro by local private radio station V7Emon, by broadcaster Fred Pedro.

The reported police action did not prevent at least one individual from holding up a sign with the same message at the time of President Chen's arrival. The Republic of China Government Information Office said the Taiwan President was welcomed by Republic of the Marshall Islands officials and local citizens waving Republic of China and Marshall Island flags and holding signs for "Yakwe" or "Welcome."

"Nevertheless, one youth on the road to the Marshall Islands Resort Hotel was viewed holding a placard reading, Welcome Taiwan, But Not in Our Internal Affairs," reported E-Taiwan.

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