PM to ‘repair damage’

PM Sitiveni Rabuka speaking at an address while Attorney General Siromi Turaga looks on, in Suva, on Fri 06 Jan 2023. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

Before handing over chairmanship of the Pacific Islands Forum to the Cook Islands, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka wants to bridge the divide with Kiribati.

At a press conference in Suva yesterday, he said this was a key regional issue he hoped to address when asked of his priority areas under his Foreign Affairs portfolio.

“The reconsolidation of the region,” Mr Rabuka said.

“At the moment we do not have Kiribati in the forum, there have been some misunderstanding and displeasure voiced by the Micronesian islands because of the selection of the last director general.”

He was referring to the five Micronesian member states — Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Palau — who quit the Forum in 2021 after the appointment of a Cook Islander Henry Puna as the new secretary general.

While the other Micronesia members have returned, Kiribati has not.

Mr Rabuka said the issue was sensitive and Fiji will “have to tread cautiously”.

“Fiji is the chair at the moment and that will be handed over to the Cooks in the next meeting. Before that I hope to repair the damage some may feel Fiji was responsible for.”

Kiribati’s withdrawal from the PIF in July last year and emphatic refusal to sign the Suva Agreement was regarded as a huge blow to then PM and PIF chair Voreqe Bainimarama.

The Suva agreement, which included a commitment to a Micronesian candidate being the PIF’s next secretary general, the creation of a new PIF office in a Micronesian country and moving the position of Pacific Ocean commissioner to Micronesia.

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