FIJI MULLS PACIFIC LEADERS GATHERING

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Bainimarama might host regional summit

By Geraldine Coutts MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Oct. 29, 2009) – Fiji, suspended from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum amid concerns over democratic rule, is considering holding its own gathering of Pacific leaders.

Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat it would be a way to talk "without getting too involved in what Australia and New Zealand want".

Commodore Bainimarama said he was asked recently by some other Pacific leaders to include their countries as observers at the next meeting of the sub-regional Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

He is taking the idea seriously.

Fiji will host the next gathering of the MSG, which brings together leaders from Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

The interim prime minister said the Pacific countries attending would not simply be observers, and there would be an opportunity to discuss issues of common interest.

Commodore Bainimarama said following Fiji's suspension from the wider Pacific Islands Forum, his country needs a body to discuss issues of common interest to the whole region.

The leaders who approached him said "there is now no forum for us to talk bilaterally or multilaterally. So they thought it would be a good idea if they can talk to us in a forum such as that".

It would be "an opportunity for us to talk as a group on matters affecting Fiji and the rest of the Pacific Island nations because there's no forum such as that now which includes Fiji".

Was Fiji saying it has no further interest in the broader bodies - which include Australia and New Zealand - from which it has been suspended?

But he said: "We just want to continue talking with the rest of the Pacific Island nations and I guess with the rest of the Commonwealth countries.

"If we are suspended from Australia and New Zealand the forum,I am sure there are other ways we can move forward without getting too involved in what Australia and New Zealand want."

He would not specify which countries have approached him. Pacific leaders met recently at a golf tournament in Fiji, and when small island nations got together in New York to discuss climate change.

The invitations are now out yet. Fiji's interim leader said he was taking the requests seriously, but "I need to talk further on that with the rest of the MSG group".

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