Claire Trevett

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

Pacific leaders maintain Fiji's suspension

John Key at the Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands. Photo / Supplied
John Key at the Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands. Photo / Supplied

The leaders of the Pacific Islands have decided Fiji will not be reinstated to the Pacific Islands Forum before it holds elections - a step Prime Minister John Key said was out of wariness that the military would not return to the barracks after elections.

The leaders held their retreat in a vaka - a wooden catamaran - at a tiny island in the Cook Islands today.

Fiji has been suspended from the Forum since 2006.

Despite some speculation that it might reconsider the terms of the suspension after recent progress in Fiji, outgoing chair New Zealand Prime Miinister John Key said it was decided that no major change, such as lifting the suspension, would happen until after democratic elections were held. Although the independence of the Constitutional Commission was encouraging, there was still the issue of immunity for the military involved in the December 2006 coup.

"One of the reasons not to reinstate is because of serious questions such as what happens to the military and whether they are sent back to the barracks."

He said the leaders would also be watching carefully to ensure Commodore Bainimarama paid heed to the Constitutional Commission, but he believed there was some confidence that Fiji might go ahead with the elections Bainimarama had promised for 2014.

New Zealand and Australia remained ready to provide support to hold elections, and had recently softened sanctions and agreed to restore full diplomatic links with Fiji to help that process.

The new chair, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, said that the renewed engagement by the two countries with Fiji was encouraging.

He would not say whether some leaders had argued against the stand on the suspension during discussions, but said it was the position all agreed on.

"The integrity of the Forum must be maintained."

He said most of the discussion by the leaders focussed on fisheries - the theme of this year's forum is the ocean.

Earlier in the day Mr Key announced New Zealand was boosting its support funding for Pacific fisheries by $10 million to $50 million over the next three years.

The retreat began in good humour - each leader was given a mahogany sapling to plant in the sands on the island.

Mr Puna said it was s symbolic gesture - but was also aimed at offsetting the carbon footprint of the Forum, given climate change was a major issue of many Pacific countries.

Mr Puna and Mr Key also sent their condolences to Australia - Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard had returned home the previous evening after the deaths of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

- NZ Herald

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