Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Clinton's guards to hand over guns to Cook Islands police

Hillary Clinton. Photo / Simon Baker
Hillary Clinton. Photo / Simon Baker

Despite the high security risks that come with guarding the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton's Secret Service agents can expect to have their guns confiscated when they arrive with her in Rarotonga this week for the Pacific Islands Forum.

The State Department is yet to formally confirm Mrs Clinton's visit - her first to the Cook Islands - but it is an open secret and the local newspaper, the Cook Islands News, is describing it as the biggest for the country since the Queen's in 1974.

Mrs Clinton is expected to spend most of Saturday at the forum, meeting the 16 Pacific Islands Forum leaders and holding one-on-one meetings with some, including Prime Minister John Key and his Australian counterpart, Julia Gillard.

Mrs Clinton travels with a large security contingent, but Cook Islands Police Commissioner Ma'ara Tetava has imposed a strict no-guns policy for the Cook Islands and the United States would not be exempt from it, despite the high profile of Mrs Clinton and the security risks that come with her position.

The rule will apply also to other leaders, including Mr Key, who is due to arrive in Rarotonga on Wednesday.

Forum media co-ordinator Derek Fox said Mr Tetava's rule meant all security staff travelling with leaders would be told to hand their guns over on arrival in the Cooks.

He said all security would be in the control of the Cook Islands police, and only those sworn in as Cooks officers could carry firearms. Some police from Australia and New Zealand would assist.

"I understand the Commission of Police from the Cook Islands has already advised other jurisdictions that should they arrive with firearms, the Cook Islands police will take hold of them and put them in a safe place until they go home and then they will be given back," said Mr Fox.

He did not know whether the United States was concerned about the rule, but said the Cook Islands was an independent country.

Security personnel from Australia, New Zealand and the United States were already in the Cook Islands checking arrangements in advance of the leaders' arrival on Wednesday.

New Zealand is sending over 10 police officers to assist. A spokesman said they would serve in a range of roles, including search specialists to check venues in advance, a dog handler and a radio technician. None would carry firearms.

The firearms issue is the latest in a series of logistical considerations prompted by Mrs Clinton's proposed visit. Organisers told the US to send a smaller delegation than the usual 90 as accommodation on Rarotonga was already booked out. A private home is understood to have been booked for the stay.

The Associated Press reported that organisers had had to borrow SUVs from island residents for motorcades, and the Cook Islands News reported that while there was just enough room for all the VIP planes at the airport, if the cargo plane that sometimes accompanied Mrs Clinton's VIP plane was also coming, it might have to stop in Pago Pago, in American Samoa, about two hours away.

Mr Key will be travelling in a Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757, Ms Gillard in a Royal Australian Air Force VIP Boeing 737, and there will be smaller planes carrying Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill and New Caledonian President Harold Martin.

Mr Fox said speculation that the United States was sending an aircraft carrier or other warships closer to Rarotonga had not been substantiated.

The United States is one of 14 "dialogue partners" who regularly send officials or politicians to the annual Pacific Islands Forum, where talks with them are held on the last day.

- NZ Herald

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