Port Havannah: Pacific island
leaders on Thursday agreed to keep Fiji suspended from their
regional grouping until it moved towards democracy, but said
they would engage its military regime in talks.
Fiji`s flag is still flying at venues hosting the annual
Pacific Islands Forum in Vanuatu, but the country was
suspended from the region`s most important grouping after
reneging on a promise to hold elections.
"Our stance remains the same but we are fully committed
to engaging with Fiji and assisting Fiji on the way back to
democracy," Tonga`s Prime Minister Feleti Sevele told a press
conference at the conclusion of the two-day summit.
Fiji, which has torn up its constitution and dismissed
the judiciary since military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama
seized power in 2006, was a key issue discussed at the forum`s
talks in Port Havannah north of capital Port Vila.
Australia and New Zealand have strongly supported Fiji`s
suspension from the grouping, but its absence has prompted
questions about the forum`s relevance and its ability to help
lift Pacific islanders out of poverty.
"Fiji is an important regional actor in the Pacific
because of its traditional role, because of its geographic
location, because it is one of the larger islands in
population and economy," Christian Leffler, head of the EU
delegation to the forum, told reporters.
"When Fiji is not participating fully in regional
cooperation... as witnessed by their absence from this Pacific
Islands Forum meeting, that also weakens the possibility to
take the region forward."