Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rudd backs move to oust Fiji from Pacific forum

By Misha Schubert in The Age


PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has vowed to maintain Australia's "hardline" stance against Fiji's military dictatorship, as the rogue state heads towards being expelled from the Pacific Islands Forum on Friday.

The Prime Minister also signalled plans to seek fresh moves by the United Nations to pressure the regime to return to democracy by cutting the number of Fijian troops already deployed on global peacekeeping missions.

Such a move — to come on top of a ban on any new Fijian troops on UN missions — would cut foreign income into Fiji and target the military from within its own ranks.

The tough stance was endorsed by Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Michael Somare, in Canberra for annual talks with Mr Rudd, who said Fiji had given its neighbours no option but to suspend it from the forum.

Mr Rudd also questioned Fiji's membership of the Commonwealth, after its "wholesale assault" on the state by suspending the constitution, the independent judiciary and the free press.

"You cannot sustain within a family of democracies within the Pacific Island Forum or a family of democracies within the Commonwealth a government like that of Fiji which simply treats with contempt the most fundamental democratic institutions and press freedoms of its people," he said.

After the bilateral meeting, Mr Rudd honoured the "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels" — the villagers who helped save the lives of Australian soldiers as they repelled the Japanese advance through the muddy jungles of PNG during the Second World War.

Mr Rudd confirmed plans for Australia to print commemorative medallions for those who guided and carried wounded diggers out of harm's way and "who are so much part and parcel of our ability to prevail in the New Guinea campaign in the darkest days of World War II".

The two leaders also discussed a push to track the effectiveness of Australia's substantial aid contribution to PNG by using clearer social yardsticks such as infant and maternal mortality and school attendance.

They set a goal to lift primary school attendance for Papua New Guinean children from 53 to 70 per cent by 2015.

Moves to establish a national rugby league competition in PNG were also canvassed — including the idea of making participation in training and games conditional on school attendance.

Introducing such conditions has been hailed as a huge success in some remote indigenous communities in Australia, where swimming pools have been used as an incentive to increase school attendance by Aboriginal children.


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