SOMARE BEGS BAINIMARAMA TO RECONSIDER MEETING

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Eleventh hour effort to persuade, Fiji military commander

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Jan. 21, 2009) - Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has made personal calls to his Fiji counterpart in an attempt to ensure Voreqe Bainimarama attends the special Pacific Islands Forum meeting next week.

PNG High Commissioner here Peter Eafeare said Sir Michael was disappointed but would try until the last minute to change Mr. Bainimarama’s mind.

He said the meeting was just as important as the flood relief and rehabilitation and that "it’s also a critical time for Fiji, a moment of truth."

"It came as a disappointment to my Prime Minister," Mr Eafeare said. "But my prime minister is still trying until the eleventh hour to appeal to him by any means - trying to contact him by mobile phone to at least come up.

"The important issue is for him to personally present what he has in mind for Fiji.

"His absence will not help."

According to the AAP, Sir Michael, a close ally of Fiji, yesterday said he sent a letter to Mr. Bainimarama asking him to explain his decision not to attend the meeting.

"I’ve sent a letter and I’m getting the (PNG) high commissioner (in Fiji) to get clarification from him," Sir Michael said.

"I have to wait for the letter to arrive then I’ll speak to him.

"All of us are concerned. We don’t want to see Fiji being kicked out of the Commonwealth or out of PIF.

"I think with our own Melanesian senses we should be able to get him talking to us."

On Tuesday, Bainimarama in a media statement said the interest of the nation and those affected by the flood were more important than attending the Port Moresby meeting.

"I cannot be out of the country at a critical time when the flooding which Fiji experienced a week ago claimed 10 lives and caused massive destruction to property, crops, businesses, industries and the nation’s infrastructure and related installations," he said.

"As head of government, my priority is to ensure that people are properly looked after, necessary assessment is made of damage caused and to oversee the availability of resources for the reconstruction and rehabilitation work to bring back normalcy to the lives of our people and for economic recovery.

"I, however, would like to be personally at the special meeting which the leaders have sanctioned and it is for this reason that I have asked for a deferment."

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