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Pacific Islands Forum still hopes to keep Micronesia

PIF Leaders retreat Credit: Pacific Island Forum.

Hopes of Micronesia remaining in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) remain, with Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama once again apologising to Micronesian countries over the forum’s handling of their disagreement over the forum’s leadership.

“We could have handled the situation much better, but I remain confident that we will find a way forward together,” he said.

Mr. Bainimarama, who takes over from Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano as PIF chair, was speaking during the opening of the 51st PIF leaders retreat.

“Whilst I do not expect us to resolve our issues today, I am hopeful that this meeting will provide me, as your chair, the guidance and wisdom required to frame the much-needed dialogues that will resolve our differences and restore our belief in a renewed regional solidarity that is capable of responding to the scale of challenges that we now confront,” Mr. Bainimarama said.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama Credit: Facebook

“People and communities across the Pacific expect this of us and I have no intention of letting them down.

“The last 18 months have taught us lessons about the pace and nature of change.

“It has taught us lessons about the need to be able to respond to multiple vulnerabilities at the same time.

“It has taught us about the importance of building consensus and working together.

“Our region needs bold and decisive leadership to respond to these extraordinary challenges.”

Nauru’s President Lionel Aingimea and chair of the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit (MPS), attended the meeting as a representative of the Micronesia leaders, who standing on the principles of the Mekreos Communique, are not attending the retreat.

The Mekreos Communique articulates that if the long-standing Gentlemen’s Agreement is not honoured, then the Micronesian presidents see no benefit in remaining with PIF.

The Micronesian sub-regional group consisting of Nauru, the Republic of Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Palau, commenced denunciation from the PIF in February.

Nauru is a founding member of the forum, along with six others – Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga and Western Samoa – now Samoa.

Friday’s meeting saw leaders discuss issues such as:

*Covid-19 recovery efforts;

*Update on the political dialogue mechanism; and,

*Consider a draft declaration on preserving maritime zones in the face of sea level rise related to climate change.

The annual forum meetings are chaired by the head of government of the host country, who remains as forum chair until the next meeting.

Formalities included Mr. Natano handing over as forum chair to host leader of the 51st PIF, Mr. Bainimarama.

Nauru last hosted the forum in 2018.

United States President Joe Biden, who was invited to speak to members of the forum, reassured the Pacific leaders of his government’s support through Covid-19 vaccines and addressing effects of climate change in the region.

Joining Friday’s session for the first time were Samoa’s first female Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and New Caledonia’s first Kanak President Louis Mapou.

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