Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Leaders meet over South Pacific crisis management plan


South Pacific leaders met yesterday to approve a plan to bolster the powers of the region's top bureaucrat to rapidly respond to crises in an area troubled by instability, poverty and corruption and vulnerable to terrorism.

The plan calls for authority to be given to Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Greg Urwin to coordinate "action to prevent or respond to a crisis."

The proposal, authored by former heads of state, diplomats and academics in the region, notes "a strong feeling [among member states] that government breakdown, insurrection and other emergencies" demand rapid action.

The South Pacific has been wracked by military coups, civil wars and communal strife in recent years, and last year mobilized an Australian-led armed intervention force to quell lawlessness in the Solomon Islands.

Globalization, transnational crime and rapid change have "put several Pacific countries at great risk," the proposal said, adding that "geographic isolation is no longer any guarantee of freedom from terrorism, drug and people smuggling, or transnational organized crime."

It warns that climate change, pollution and over-exploitation of natural resources also threaten many of the small nations.

The plan called for broad regional cooperation and integration among the South Pacific Forum's 16 members, recommending that leaders endorse proposals to create stronger and deeper links and resource sharing between nations. Areas for such cooperation include transport, security, regional law enforcement, financial systems, customs, common judicial systems and a common digital strategy.

The 15 leaders at the summit, which was due to wrap up late yesterday, were also expected to approve segments of the plan they hope will spark economic growth.

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