Pacific leaders put Fiji on final warning

By Claire Trevett

Fiji has been put on its last warning with a strongly worded statement from Pacific Island leaders that it must work toward elections by March 2009 or risk suspension by the end of the year.

The Pacific Islands leaders broke from their retreat at the Forum in Niue today to unanimously state Fiji must work toward elections by March after Mr Bainimarama backed down from promises last year to hold elections by March.

The statement gave Fiji an ultimatum - of either working towards elections with the help of other countries, or risk being suspended from the forum at a special meeting of the leaders at the end of this year.

Mr Bainimarama's reaction will be watched closely. In a written statement he threatened to withdraw Fiji from the forum if the leaders did insist on elections by 2009.

NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark said considering suspension of a country was an unprecedented move for the Pacific Forum.

The Forum chair Toke Talagi said it was important for the forum to maintain its integrity as a regional organisation

Despite Mr Bainimarama's statements that several small island states were on his side, the statement was reached unanimously.

It expressed serious concern at Mr Bainimarama's decision to boycott the Forum meeting and "condemned" the resiling from promises he made to the leaders in 2007 to hold elections by March 2009.

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