(Suva, Fiji) Kiribati, one of the five Micronesian nations, withdrew its membership from the Pacific Island Forum saying it was not consulted on the Suva Agreement deliberation. The announcement was made on the eve of the regional body’s 51st Leadership meeting held in Suva, Fiji from the 10th to 14th of July.
In a letter to PIF Secretary-General Henry Puna, Kiribati President Taneti Maamau said Kiribati has made “sovereign decision to withdraw from the Pacific Island Forum with immediate effect.”
Citing four reasons for withdrawal, he reiterated that it was not due to any ill-feelings toward Henry Puna or Cook Islands but due to principles raised in the Mekreos Communique. He added those issues were not addressed in the Suva Agreement, which Kiribati did not sign.
The Mekreos Communique, a position statement made by the Micronesian nations, demanded PIF members respect the gentlemen’s agreement that dictated the next SG comes from the Micronesian subregion, saying that it is essential to the region’s solidarity and unity and is non-negotiable.
President Maamau said that Kiribati was not consulted on the discussion of the Suva Agreement or involved in the decision by some of the Micronesia Presidents Summit (MPS) to return to the PIF.
“I wish to also affirm that there was never a MPS caucus decision on the PIF reform packages that Kiribati was part of, and particularly an MPS collective decision to return to the PIF,” stated President Taneti Maamau Beretitenti of Kiribati on the Suva Agreement.
This was the reason, President Maamau said that he supported Mekreos Communique, “to ensure that the value and mutual respect is accorded to all members of our Pacific family.”
Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. reported after the signing of the Suva Agreement that Micronesian leaders have discussed and approved the Suva Agreement as the way forward addressing the concerns raised in the Mekreos Communique.
In an interview with Island Times yesterday, President Whipps admitted that Kiribati did not state their position on the agreement, adding that they attempted to reach them during the meeting in Fiji in June but did not get any response.
“We have had four meetings before the Suva Agreement. Kiribati attended one. They have had the copy of the agreement before the signing. But I do understand Kiribati’s position. It is about building trust. The agreement was supposed to be signed by June 30th but not all members signed. Some members committed to sign the agreement at this meeting,” President Whipps Jr. added.
The five Micronesian nations have filed to withdraw from the regional body with Palau scheduled to leave by June 30th. Kiribati filed their notice last and were scheduled to leave the Forum this July.
Whipps also revealed that they became aware of Kiribati’s decision when they arrived in Fiji on July 10th. The letter was sent to PIF Secretary General Henry Puna on July 9th.
“The agreement is a solution, a way forward and addresses the issues that were raised in the Mekreos Communique,” said Whipps. “We have to build trust and members ratifying this agreement is a way to do so.”
Asked whether he believes that Kiribati’s decision may be influenced by other national interests, Whipps said he didn’t believe so. “There may be misunderstandings and communication issues.”
Whipps said the region faces major challenges such as climate change impacts, regional security, COVID-19 impact, economic security and others and tackling these challenges requires regional solidarity.