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Kiribati officially pulls out of Pacific Islands Forum

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

While four Micronesian nations have returned to the Pacific Islands Forum after reconsidering their membership withdrawal, Kiribati has finalized its exit from the regional bloc.

“For Kiribati, this is a matter of principle and one that touches on the need for equity, equality and inclusiveness,” Kiribati President Taneti Maamau said in a letter to Henry Puna, secretary general of the Forum.

“Kiribati remains concerned by our ability, and to some degree, our reluctance as a region to address the core of Mekreos Communique in relation to our gentlemen’s agreement,” Maamau stated in the leaked letter that was first reported by 1News New Zealand.

The letter was dated June 8, the day after the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands and Nauru announced their decision to return to the Forum fold several weeks after their exit was set to take effect on June 30.

Leaders of the Forum and its subregional group have reached a consensus on leadership rotation and equal representation as part of a reform package adopted during a political dialogue held in Suva, Fiji on June 6 and 7.

The FSM, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati formed the Micronesian Presidents' Summit.

Kiribati was not represented at the Suva meeting. The FSM government reported that President David Panuelo attempted “to get in contact with Kiribati to garner their support for the proposed reforms."

Maamau said the Suva meeting coincided with Kiribati National Day. He resented that his request for deferment of the proceedings was ignored.

Kiribati was not part of the Suva deal and returning to the Forum was not a collective decision, Maamau said. There was no Micronesian Presidents' Summit caucus agreement to this effect, he said.

“Solidarity and unity as a region is dependent on how we treat each other with profound respect and understanding,” Maamau said.

Leaked letter of Kiribati President Taneti Maamau. Photo courtesy of 1News New Zealand

The FSM, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati last year submitted their notices of withdrawal from the Forum when their candidate for secretary general was passed over despite a “gentlemen’s agreement” that it was their turn to hold the position.

The forum's Fiji faction shunned Marshall Islands Ambassador Gerald Zackios in favor of Henry Puna, Cook Islands’ former prime minister.

During the political dialogue in Suva, the Forum agreed on a reform package that will institutionalize a formal process for leadership rotation instead of relying on handshakes.

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