19 Aug 2008

Fiji's boycott will not stop discussion, says Clark

4:46 pm on 19 August 2008

The decision by Fiji's interim government to boycott the Pacific Island Forum will not prevent leaders from discussing the country's future, says Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Fiji says New Zealand is forcing it to boycott the forum, which starts on Tuesday in Niue, by undermining its ability to participate as a fully sovereign state.

The country's interim administration says its withdrawal is in protest at being unable to attend bilateral talks in New Zealand before the forum.

Fiji's interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, says the situation is unfortunate and regrettable

Miss Clark says Pacific leaders are concerned the situation in Fiji is casting a stain on the region, and forum leaders are likely to view the non-attendance as a direct snub.

Miss Clark says it is clear that Commodore Bainimarama did not mean the commitments he gave to hold free elections next year under the existing constitution, and the prospect of explaining that to his peers at the forum has been too much.

However, she says the forum will discuss a comprehensive report on Fiji carried out by the the ministers' group.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Fiji represents a threat to democracy in the region and it is regrettable Fiji will not be represented at the forum.

Mr Rudd says it is important the forum members act together to deal with Fiji.

Viewpoint will be heard - Fiji official

A senior Fiji government official says the country's viewpoint will be heard at at the meeting despite the boycott.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says forum delegates will receive speech notes from Commodore Bainimarama. He does not accept criticism by New Zealand over its failure to hold free elections next year as promised, he says.

New Zealand made an exception to the travel ban it imposed on members of the Fiji administration and military and approved transit visas for the Fijian delegation so it could travel through Auckland to get to Niue.