22 Mar 2007

MSG agreement to be signed today in Vanuatu after long delay

8:16 pm on 22 March 2007

The leaders of the Melanesian nations meet in Vanuatu today to sign a new co-operation agreement.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group, the MSG, which includes Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia, was to have signed the deal three months ago, but the Fiji coup disrupted those plans.

A second attempt to sign it last month collapsed because the Solomon Islands leader, Manasseh Sogavare, was facing a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

There had been suggestions the other members of the MSG group would not allow Fiji's interim government to sign because of the political crisis, but the foreign minister, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, will be attending and is expected to sign

The FijiLive website reports the interim prime minister, commodore Frank Bainimarama, saying the MSG countries understand Fiji's situation and have confidence it can resolve its own problems.

He says the signing of the agreement would further consolidate and enhance the close links which Fiji has with its Melanesian neighbours.

The agreement is the first formalised document governing most aspects of relationships within the group, which has been in existence for nearly a quarter of a century.

The only previous arrangement was one encouraging limited free trade.