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Voting On Self-Govt For Tokelau Moves To Atolls

Voting in UN-monitored ballot on self-determination for Tokelau moves to atolls

Voting in the referendum to determine whether Tokelau, a group of three small and isolated atolls, should have self-government in free association with New Zealand has moved to the atolls themselves, the United Nations team of observers monitoring the ballot has reported.

Some 195 people cast their ballots on Fakaofo atoll yesterday, the monitors reported, which means voting in the referendum has now been completed at two out of four polling stations.

Electoral and Government officials from New Zealand and Tokelau arrived in Fakaofo on Monday morning after a 30-hour boat journey from Apia, Samoa, where votes were cast by the local Tokelauan expatriate community on Saturday.

Yesterday's voting took place on Fale island, one of two islands which comprise Fakaofo atoll, but the ballot box and portable voting booths were also taken to the other island, Fenuafala, to allow four elderly people to cast their votes.

Voting moves to Nukunonu atoll today and then Atafu atoll tomorrow, after which the votes will be counted and the final results announced.

It is the second time in less than two years that Tokelauans are voting to determine whether the Non-Self-Governing Territory, which has been administered by New Zealand since 1926, should have self-government in free association with New Zealand.

About 60 per cent of voters backed that option in a referendum held in February 2006, which did not meet the two-thirds majority required by Tokelau's representative body, the General Fono.

The UN observers have said 789 people are eligible to vote in this referendum, an increase of 23 per cent. Officials from Tokelau and New Zealand have cited greater information about the process and the recent attainment of adulthood by many young Tokelauans - voters must be aged over 18 - as the main reasons for the spike in numbers.

Tokelau, which lies about 500 kilometres north of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean, has a total population of about 1,500 people and a land mass of approximately 12 square kilometres.

If Tokelauans achieve the two-thirds majority during this referendum, a date will then be set for a "day of self-government." This will probably be in mid-2008 to allow New Zealand enough time to make the necessary legislative amendments.

There are currently 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining on the UN's decolonization list, compared to 72 such territories when the Organization was established in 1945. The last Non-Self-Governing Territory that exercised the right to self-determination was East Timor, now known as Timor-Leste, which gained its independence in 2002 and joined the UN that same year.


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