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NEW ZEALAND’S KEYS: FORUM RIGHT BODY TO DEAL WITH FIJI Stakes high in Key’s first meeting with Pacific forum leaders

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, January 27, 2009) – New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says the Pacific Islands Forum is the right body to handle Fiji’s failure to return to democracy, but if it fails to do so others will step up.

"We are the body that should be dealing with this, not the United Nations, not the Commonwealth Secretariat, we should be dealing with it," he said at breakfast.

Stakes are high at Key’s first meeting with forum leaders in Papua New Guinea today as the regional body discusses whether to take the groundbreaking step of suspending Fiji or imposing other sanctions on it over self-appointed Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama’s failure to take steps toward reinstating democracy.

Suspension would be a first for the forum’s 16-member states, and is unlikely but discussions will be intense. It has been made public that PNG, SI, Vanuatu and Samoa will not be supporting other countries to suspend Fiji.

The forum, which is based in Fiji, has no formal process for suspension and it will be up to leaders to thrash out measures they can take. It could be that Fiji is banned from participation in certain programs, for example.

Forum nations are disappointed at the lack of progress towards elections since the December 2006 bloodless coup and over Bainimarama’s decision not to attend the meeting because of domestic flooding.

Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare on Friday said he had delayed the meeting to allow Bainimarama to attend but Sir Michael’s office was forced to back down after chairing nation Niue overruled the decision on Sunday and leaders including Mr Key called him to oppose the move.

Mr. Bainimarama is expected to send Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in his place to the Port Moresby gathering.

The meeting was called after Bainimarama reneged on a pledge he made to a forum meeting in Tonga in 2007 to hold elections this March.

He says electoral reform is needed first. The group will consider recommendations in a ministerial contact group report to be presented to leaders. Earlier Mr. Key said the forum needed to tackle problems with members.

"There needs to be a recognition that if this group fails to send that message, then it weakens the group over all and leaves that responsibility to another body," he said.

Key said he had a view on what action would be taken but would not prejudge the outcome of talks.

He said the forum was only as strong as its weakest link.

"We need to demonstrate the leadership that’s required. That doesn’t mean there’s no flexibility and we’re not sympathetic to some of the issues, particularly the flooding, nor should we be heavy handed but we do need to see progress."

The coup culture in Fiji was hurting the country.

"What we can be sure of is an interim illegitimate government in a country which has been dominated by coups is not a recipe for economic success in the Pacific."

Australia and New Zealand have imposed sanctions, including a ban on Fiji government members and officials.

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier:

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