By Epineri Vula for the Fiji Times
Monday, August 09, 2010
Monday, August 09, 2010
A FIJI-BORN academic says the Pacific's regional and sub regional bodies need to take a new approach on the Fiji issue because it is one of the reasons for the worsening fragmentation within those bodies.
Dr Steve Ratuva told Radio New Zealand International that historically the region solved differences, such as the standoff with the Fiji military regime, through talanoa, or talking through an issue, but this had been supplanted by diplomatic coercion.
Dr Ratuva, who teaches in Pacific Studies at Auckland University, pointed to the absence of some leaders from this week's Pacific Islands Forum summit, fractures within the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the refusal to involve Fiji in this week's African Caribbean and Pacific meeting in Vanuatu.
He said the Pacific should take a lesson from the ASEAN group of countries where members were not punished but engaged by other nations encouraging change.
"Because if everybody is punished because they have coups or they have political instabilities or lack of democracy or whatever then they will be no more member of ASEAN left," Dr Ratuva said.
"So in the Pacific I think perhaps in the long run they should begin to think in terms of having a proactive mechanism for this peace building rather than just punishment otherwise there is going to be one dimensional. We are going for division, fragmentation, rather than unity."
His comments came as Australia was forced to deny that South Pacific nations were split over support for Fiji's government, after several leaders failed to attend the annual summit of a bloc that suspended the island nation.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and the leaders of the Solomons and Tuvalu stayed away from last week's summit, sending senior officials instead.
This is barely a week after attending the Engaging the Pacific summit in Fiji, which was hosted by head of government Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.
Sir Michael has said since that Bainimarama should be recognised as Fiji's legitimate prime minister.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has denied a split within the Forum, saying that the summit took place as an election was being held in the Solomon Islands and that the other absences may be for good reasons.
"I detect no inkling, no support, no suggestion that the Pacific Island Forum would do anything other than that which it has done in the past, which is to unanimously adopt the position that Fiji is suspended from the forum pending a return to democracy," he told reporters.
Smith said the "circumstances have not changed but deteriorated". He added that the situation with Fiji was regrettable but the Forum would try to find a way to engage in dialogue with Fiji through its Secretariat in Suva.
"The forum stands united and remains committed to assisting Fiji to return to democratic rule," Tongan PM Feleti Sevele said.
This comes as reports surface of calls for Australia and New Zealand to back off and let island nations negotiate with their neighbour.
"There's a feeling there should be more Pacific in the Pacific," said Kiribati President Anote Tong.
Tong said he was not alone in thinking more progress would be made with Fiji if New Zealand and Australia were not part of it.
As the representatives from 15 forum countries met, Prime Minister Edward Natapei told regional leaders that Pacific Island nations have a responsibility to remain engaged with Fiji.
"As leaders of Pacific Island nations we have the duty and responsibility to remain engaged with Fiji so that democratic principals and practices can be restored in Fiji as soon as possible," he said.
Tong said he believed there needed to be a more traditional approach towards Fiji.
"I think they (Australia and New Zealand) have their own style of doing things. I suspect it's not working very well at the moment. When you are having a head-on collision with somebody you are not the right person to be talking with that person," he said.
"Quite frankly I believe that there is more likelihood of exchange among the Pacific countries themselves," he said.
PACNEWS reported that the forum received an updated report on Fiji that found the country had made no progress toward returning democratic rule, and as a result the country's suspension would stand.
But leaders agreed to consider allowing Fiji to rejoin free trade talks, and to try to engage with Bainimarama's government on democracy.
In addition to the suspended Fiji, the forum comprises Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.