By Selwyn Manning – Scoop Co-Editor, in Apia, Samoa.
Pacific islands leaders have gathered at a secure retreat at Samoa’s Sinalei Reef Resort today where they will discuss a raft of issues impacting on the Oceania region.
Welcome to the forum, but watch out for the busses.
Nauru’s financial collapse will feature high on the agenda, as will AIDS/HIV where the spread of the disease is entrenching in Fiji and other islands. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said it is urgent that solutions be found.
Other major issue facing leaders include how the Pacific can strengthen links between its nations. Distance, isolation, and size are barriers to co-operation between the island states on virtually common problems. Helen Clark said: “The key issue is the Pacific Plan”.
The Plan intends to map out agreement of all states to share governance resources, to plan strategically on security, on trade and economic co-operation.
Other issues requiring decisive action involve: preservation of cultural identity, the role of women in Pacific leadership, human rights observance of UN conventions, rights of minority groups including the young and disabled peoples, and a broader based aid co-operative that can take action when disasters strike.
Civil society leaders are urging the Forum to lobby the United Nations on decolonisation and specifically want Papua New Guinea to ratify the Bougainville constitution.
Australia is also being pressured to negotiate a fair maritime boundary with East Timor.
Tonga too is being asked to bring its constitution up to 21 century standards and is specifically being urged to introduce a new democratic constitution that is not subservient to its monarchy.
The leaders will decide on a core group of three “open minded” Pacific leaders including Helen Clark and Samoa PM Tupua Tupuola Efi to oversee progress and implementation of the Pacific Plan.
Samoan leaders gather at Parliament Grounds for the official opening of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Samoa’s Parliament Grounds - official opening of the Pacific Islands Forum.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark speaking at the Pacific Islands Forum opening in Apia, Samoa.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark
Pacific Islands Forum chair, Samoa PM Tupua Tupuola Efi and Australia PM John Howard.
Pacific leaders at the official opening of the Pacific Islands Forum, Apia Samoa.
Dusk, Apia harbour, Samoa.
Pacific Leaders Hangout: Security watch at Aggie Grey’s Hotel, Apia, Samoa.