Rift widens in Pacific Islands Forum

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leadership rift widened on Sunday as the Marshall Islands voiced its disapproval with the central political body in a region where the United States and China are competing for influence.

Palau has already announced it was pulling out of the organization and would meet the Marshall Islands and other Micronesian members of the forum on Monday to discuss what has been described as "a huge fracture" in regional unity.

The row erupted last Thursday, when the Micronesian candidate to be the organization's next secretary-general was rejected in favor of former Cook Islands premier Henry Puna, after a virtual meeting of leaders from the 18-member body.

The five Micronesian states - Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia - had argued it was their turn to fill the post under an informal arrangement that has stood for decades.

“We need to reassess our relationship with the PIF. They ignored the 'gentlemen's agreement' and we can't take it any longer,” Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Casten Nemra said.

The PIF is made up mostly of small Pacific island states along with Australia and New Zealand, and is a key element of the U.S allies' diplomatic efforts in the region.