COOK ISLANDS CONCERNED OVER AIR NEW ZEALAND SUBSIDY

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Questions why NZ only underwriting flights to Samoa and Tonga

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Mar. 18, 2009) - The Cook Islands Government is demanding an explanation from New Zealand over a plan to underwrite Air New Zealand services to Samoa and Tonga.

The criticism comes after New Zealand announced it would help underwrite Air New Zealand services from Samoa to Los Angeles, in the face of their possible discontinuation.

But Cook Islands Foreign Minister, Wilkie Rasmussen, says if New Zealand is to subsidize Samoa, the Cooks should also be a part of it.

"It’s not a fair strategy to be sort of favoring two countries and the Cook Islands is left on its own to basically support itself through difficult times," he said.

"We initiated early discussions with Air New Zealand and entered into an agreement at a time when we thought it would be the best strategy for the Cook Islands."

Yesterday, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, said the issue would be amongst a number of issues he plans to discuss during a trip to the Cook Islands.

"The Cook Islands have already signed an arrangement with Air New Zealand, they had done that by the time the Samoan and Tongan governments had actually approached New Zealand for assistance," Mr. McCully said.

"I was open in acknowledging that we were picking up an issue that they had already dealt with, indicating that we would be trying to do more to assist them in the coming year and we’d be having some discussion with them about how they would best like to be helped."

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