MICRONESIAN LEADERS JOIN TO PROTEST MARINE SANCTUARY

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Letter urge President Bush to abandon the designation

By Agnes Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, November 28, 2008) –Micronesian leaders have asked President George W. Bush to reject a proposal to designate the three northernmost islands of the Commonwealth as a marine monument.

The officials, in a letter signed at the recently concluded 10th Micronesian Chief Executives' Summit in Pohnpei, expressed their support for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) government, which opposes the implementation of a national marine monument in the islands of Maug, Asuncion and Uracas through the Antiquities Act.

"While the merits of the specific designation are debatable, the process is unacceptable to all of our people," states the letter, signed by Federated States of Micronesia President Emanuel Mori, Guam Gov. Felix Camacho, Palau President Tommy E. Remengasau, Marshall Islands President Litokwa Tomeing, Yap Gov. Sebastian Anefal, Pohnpei Gov. John Ehsa, Kosrae Gov. Robert Weilbacher, Chuuk Gov. Wesley Simina, and Northern Marianas Gov. Benigno R. Fitial.

"Based on our experience," the letter adds, "protected areas are only successful when they reflect the will and ideals of those affected. Mr. President, we ask that you refrain from designating any national marine monument in the CNMI against the wishes of the indigenous peoples of those island. These wishes are also strongly demonstrated through the voices of the vast majority of [the] CNMI's democratically elected leaders opposing any national marine monument designation."

The letter was written at Fitial's request. The governor, in his opening remarks at the Chief Executives Summit, called the marine monument proposal "[a] challenge for the CNMI."

He said, "This is a plan that has been rejected by the government of the CNMI and by elected leaders in Guam.... I believe that we have already voluntarily committed to the [Palau government-led] Micronesian Challenge and that we can preserve our own environment and natural resources without undue interference from wealthy, influential groups and bureaucrats from Washington, D.C."

The Fitial administration and the Legislature has repeatedly stated-through official communications to the Bush administration and in meetings with White House officials-their opposition to the monument proposal.

Yet a local organization, Friends of the Monument, with backing from the multibillion-dollar Pew Charitable Trusts, has been aggressive in pushing for the marine preservation plan. Last month, the group submitted over 5,000 signatures collected by more than 60 volunteers in support of the marine monument.

"It represents one of the largest one-on-one information and outreach efforts ever undertaken in the CNMI and represents literally thousands of individual conversations. We do not believe that this sort of grassroots democracy should be discounted," the group has said of the effort.

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