Independence Moves In Chuuk Could Potentially Break Up FSM

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Analysis

By freelance correspondent Ben Bohane from the island of Chuuk

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, April 11, 2016) – There is an independence push that could see the break-up of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) in the North Pacific.

The move, which claims more than 50 per cent support to end 30 years of nationhood, is coming from some of the leaders of Chuuk, one of four island states that make up the FSM.

In the decades since Micronesian nations such as the FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands became independent, the North Pacific has been largely peaceful and politically stable, compared to the coups and ethnic conflicts in the South Pacific on Bougainville, the Solomon Islands and Fiji.

The FSM is considered the most complex of the region's nations, with independence rumblings not only from Chuuk but to a lesser extent from Yap, another of the country's island states.

Chuuk, also known as Truk, has the largest population of the four main islands, with 53,000 people. It is famous for its vast lagoon, which is a diving Mecca after dozens of Japanese ships were sunk there by American warplanes in 1944. During World War II the Japanese used Chuuk as their main regional naval base, earning the nickname the Gibraltar of the Pacific.

Today, with its poor roads and lack of economic growth, it still seems part of a bygone era.

Frustration with the Compact of Free Association the FSM has with the United States, and the location of the national government on the neighbouring island of Pohnpei, is pushing Chuukese towards independence. Washington provides funding and handles defence and foreign affairs issues under the Compact arrangements.

One of the key leaders of the independence movement is the state's Attorney-General, Sabino Asor, who is also Chairman of the Chuuk Political Status Commission, established to address the issue.

"I do believe that Chuuk needs to separate itself from the FSM and be a separate entity, but still within the Micronesia region, just like Palau and the Marshalls," he said.

"We have tried together being an FSM nation, but so far the outcome is not very equal, especially to Chuuk, which has the biggest state, population-wise."

Chuuk still needs partnership with US

Mr Asor claims more than 50 per cent of local people, together with a majority of Chuuk's leadership, support the movement.

"From Chuuk's point of view we have two levels of frustration now, both within our own FSM federation and also in our relationship with the implementing agency of the US, our major partner," he said.

"Some of the basic elements of the US Compact are satisfactory to Chuuk, but some we would need to revise to try to make them workable for a separate Chuuk entity.

"The independence we are pursuing now would be in the same context as Palau, the Marshalls and the FSM with the US. We still need the US as a major partner, financial and security wise, but at the same time we're looking at the way events are evolving in our part of the region and we don't feel peace.

"Nobody is working for peace. People are rattling their sabres and we don't want that. So hopefully, by the time we have to come to the decision we can see what the security picture will be for the region."

Last year a scheduled independence referendum was postponed by Chuuk Governor Johnson Elimo, citing the need for more consultation.

And while the independence push has key supporters, others are cautious.

Youth not enthused about independence

Chairman of the Chuuk Youth Council Mahony Mori believes many young people are ambivalent. Some are concerned their ability to live and work in the US under current Compact privileges may be jeopardised.

"We're still trying to get more information from the leadership as they have already proposed that we secede from the FSM," Mr Mori said.

"I don't think it is such a bad idea. I mean, who doesn't want to be independent?

"But we aren't getting enough information that we need from them about the pros and cons. We're not really sure because they are telling everyone it is a good thing, but they haven't shown any proof.

"When we ask what are the bad things about it they wouldn't tell us. So that is the frustration that the younger generation is having with the Commission."

A former President of the FSM, Manny Mori, who is from Chuuk, is against independence.

"I was and I remain of the opinion that we should remain united as a nation, as one. As President I felt I was responsible under the Constitution to unify the nation," he said.

While recognising the desire for independence, Mr Mori said a "yes" vote would probably lead to a long legal battle.

"There is a lot of scary stuff about this secession. They're not talking about that," he said.

"What's going to happen with our people in the United States? I don't know what will happen if the US decides not to have a relationship with Chuuk state.

"The leaders could rig the plebiscite and then what? Chuuk has to go through a legal pathway and in the constitution there is a legal pathway. But they want to take a shortcut. That's dangerous."

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