6 Aug 2004

Pacific Forum opens in Samoa

6:16 pm on 6 August 2004

The 35th Pacific Island Forums Summit is underway after an opening ceremony in the grounds of Parliament in Apia in Samoa.

14 Pacific heads of state are at the summit, two countries, Vanuatu and Palau are represented by their deputy leaders.

As Don Wiseman reports from Apia, the focus of the next two days of talks will be on the plan for regional cooperation, the Pacific Plan.

"The outgoing chair, New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, first confirmed the granting of observer status to French Polynesia and suggested that Tokelau which next year may hold a referendum on self government and free association with New Zealand, may soon become a member of the Forum."

Miss Clark says this past year may well go down in history as the year the leaders took up the challenge of change in agreeing to the Pacific Plan.

She says the challenge now is to turn the vision and clear direction into action.

The Secretary General of the Forum, Greg Urwin, says initially the body will look at harmonising process and procedures and that the best means by which the best cooperation among the regional organisation can be achieved.

The new chair, the Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele, says the plan will require strong leadership and it will need to deliver benefits to the people.

He says the other key issues to be discussed at the Forum will be HIV-AIDS and the regional strategy aimed at improving air and sea transport.

The leaders will spend day two at a retreat at a resort with wider discussions to happen the following day.