Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja,has called on Micronesian Leaders not to leave the premier political body- the Pacific Islands Forum saying the region is ‘stronger together’.
Seselja made the call after the recent move made by the Micronesian Leaders’ Summit last week to set up their own interim secretariat in Nauru- signalling the withdrawal of the five Micronesian countries from the Forum.
Seselja in an interview with PACNEWS said the Australian Government’s position is to see for the Pacific Islands Forum to continue as a unified organisation.
“Australia, of course, takes the concerns of our Micronesian friends very seriously. And we’ve been engaging, we’ve been listening to their concerns.
“What my message to them has been and my message continues to be is that the region is stronger together. And what I would like to see what the Australian government would like to see is for the Pacific Islands Forum to continue as a unified organisation, to look at what reforms are reasonable and necessary to make sure that all nations feel included in that decision making process,” Seselja told PACNEWS
Seselja said the voice of the Micronesian sub-region is crucial, coming at a time when the Pacific Islands Forum is celebrating 50 years of regionalism and regional solidarity.
“But going forward, we would like to see the Pacific Islands Forum continue together because we think that voice is very important. It’s not just important here, but it’s important on an international scale as well,” Seselja told PACNEWS.
In the 20th Micronesian Presidents’ Summit communique signed by the five presidents – President of Kiribati, Taneti Maamau; President of Federated States of Micronesia David Panuelo; President of the Republic of Marshall Islands, David Kabua, President of Palau, Surangel Whipps Jr, and Nauru President Lionel Aingimea, discussed the establishment of the Secretariat.
“Presidents acknowledged the importance of positioning the Micronesian subregion at the international level,” the communique stated.
In February, the Micronesian leaders announced that it is quitting the Pacific Islands Forum after the selection of former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, as the Forum Secretariat’s Secretary-General.
The leaders claimed that due to an unwritten agreement, it was the sub-region’s turn to provide the next SG.
While there is an ongoing discussion among the leaders regarding the rift, the Micronesian leaders during their meeting said Micronesia is still leaving the Forum.
Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama last month used his inaugural speech as the new chair of the Pacific Islands Forum to offer an apology to the Micronesian members of the Pacific grouping who were angered by the way the Forum rejected their nominee for the Forum Secretary-General’s job.
“I offer you my deepest apology,” said Bainimarama at the handover ceremony done virtually at the start of the 51st Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ retreat in August.
“We could have handled it better,” he added.