VANUATU FORUM SHORT ON PACIFIC LEADERS

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Prime ministers notably absent

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Aug. 5, 2010) – The 41st Pacific Islands Forum meeting began in Vanuatu today with notable absentees being the prime ministers of Australia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

Fiji's on-going suspension from the forum will be discussed at a leaders retreat tomorrow.

The leaders were driven into Port Vila's Independence Park in a fleet of black limousines, donated to the hosts Vanuatu by China a week ago.

The Fiji flag was flying, along with those of the 15 other forum nations, but Fiji's military commander and Prime Minister, Frank Bainmarama, was not invited.

Representing Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard, is the Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who made an oblique reference to Fiji saying that Australians wished Solomon Islanders well as they voted today. A right, Mr Smith said, that every Pacific citizen should have.

The incoming chairman Vanuatu's prime minister, Edward Natapei, said the leaders had a duty and a responsibility to remain engaged, so that democracy could be restored there as soon as possible.

[PIR editor’s note: Radio Australia also reports: "Pacific island leaders meeting in Port Vila this week are being urged to keep talking to the military rulers of Fiji, despite the island nation's suspension from the region's main political grouping. Speaking at the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum, Vanuatu's prime minister Edward Natapei said he's concerned about Fiji's breaches of democratic rule and human rights under Frank Bainimarama. But Mr Natapei says the Pacific island leaders have a duty and responsibility to remain engaged with Fiji so that democratic principles and practices can be restored as soon as possible. Fiji was suspended by the forum after coup leader Frank Bainimarama failed to hold elections in 2009 as promised."]

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