Fiji and Samoa leaders trade insults over Forum
The leaders of Fiji and Samoa have reached new heights this week in a trade of insults over the Pacific Islands Forum but observers say improtant issues for the agency are at risk..
The leaders of Fiji and Samoa have reached new heights this week in a trade of insults over the Pacific Islands Forum.
Observers say their tit for tat smears are obscuring important issues for the regional political agency.
Sally Round reports.
There has over the years been no love lost between the prime ministers of Fiji and Samoa. In the latest exchange, Fiji's Frank Bainimarama told the website FijiVillage Samoa's Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is a yapping lapdog.
FRANK BAINIMARAMA: You know he's the only prime minister that attacks everyone, left, right and centre. He attacks his dog, he attacks his rugby team, he attacks everything he can get his hands on. But we've heard this yapping from the Samoan lapdog before, day in day out and it really means nothing.
Mr Bainimarama was responding to Tuilaepa's comments in the Samoa Observer whose Sunday headline screamed "I can't stand you Baini!" Tuilaepa said Mr Bainimarama's specialty, as a military man, was to play the drum and yell left, right, stop.
TUILAEPA SAILELE MALIELEGAOI: Remember all the man did was to play the drums and train. So he doesn't understand these things. He is only new and he is still learning about matters of international relations.
To which the Fijian leader responded:
FRANK BAINIMARAMA: He's talking about me playing drums. At least I can play an instrument. All he can do is bark and dance to tunes until they feed him again.
The slanging match is over Fiji's demands for changes to the make-up of the Pacific Islands Forum and Mr Bainimarama's refusal to attend this year unless Australia and New Zealand, as the main funders, leave. It would be Fiji's first meeting since it was suspended after the 2006 coup. Australia has tried the diplomatic tack of gathering together regional leaders on the matter and failed, while New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key has called Fiji's demands a joke.
JOHN KEY: I don't think you would want to take him terribly seriously - I'm not and I don't think other people will be either. I think it is just Frank Bainimarama mouthing off, really.
Jenny Hayward-Jones of the Australian thinktank, the Lowy Institute, says important regional issues are at risk because of the latest personal tensions.
JENNY HAYWARD-JONES: We've also seen some tension in the past between Prime Minister Bainimarama and Papua new Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill although that has largely been kept private. I think this goes to a larger problem that all the countries of the Forum want Fiji back in the Forum, everyone wants to talk to Fiji but Bainimarama's personality and his personal antipathy with some of the leaders is preventing a more substantive discussion about the benefits to Fiji returning to the Forum.
Karl Claxton of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says such rivalries, personal or otherwise, need a creative diplomatic response to bring a very isolated Fiji back into the fold.
KARL CLAXTON: We really need to be cleverer and work more closely with friendly countries, particularly Papua New Guinea to create a circuit breaker to allow Fiji back into the regional system. It's difficult because there's longstanding regional rivalry between Papua New Guinea and Fiji. Perhaps Mr O'Neill might let Mr Bainimarama co-chair a special session of the Forum to look at this matter in detail.
The Pacific Islands Forum's next meeting is due to take place in Port Moresby in September.
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