15 Aug 2002

Forum now more assertive - Fiji President IloIlo

4:21 pm on 15 August 2002

The Pacific Island Forum summit opens in Suva today with Fiji's president, Ratu Josefa IloIlo, saying island leaders are becoming more assertive.

In a message to mark the 33rd Forum, President IloIlo has urged Pacific leaders to continue to express their views on regional and relevant international issues.

President IloIlo has also paid tribute to the founding fathers of the Forum who, he said, were a tower of strength in deepening, promoting and expanding regional co-operation.

Most island leaders are already in Suva with the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard and the PNG counterpart, Sir Michael Somare, arriving last night.

Small Pacific states have expressed profound disappointment that the United States has rejected the Kyoto Protocol setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2010.

In a meeting ahead of the Forum, they agreed on a statement expressing their grave concerns and calling for urgent action.

While naming the world's biggest polluter, the US, the leaders were not unanimous on whether to name Australia, which is also opposoed to the Kyoto Protocol.

Tuvalu's prime minister, Saufatu Sopoanga, says he wanted to have Australia named.

The Cook Islands prime minister, Dr Robert Woonton, says if Australia shows an attempt to reduce its emissions then there is a positive reaction to that.

Low-lying countries, such as Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, are at risk of being wiped out because rising sea levels destroy fresh water supplies and erode scarce land resources.