Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Tiny cash-strapped Nauru seeks aid from neighbors

AP , APIA, SAMOA

The Pacific island nation of Nauru -- once rich with phosphates derived from bird droppings but now in financial ruins -- is appealing for help from 15 other regional states at an islands forum in Samoa over the coming three days, officials said yesterday.

Nauru's recently elected president, Ludwig Scotty, is to brief leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum's annual meeting on his financially strapped nation's plight and ask for assistance, said forum Secretary-General Greg Urwin.

The meeting will consider a proposal to station a forum official at the tiny island -- about 20 square kilometers halfway between Australia and Hawaii -- to advise it on how to tap sources of aid, he said.

Nauru never needed aid in the past when its tiny population was among the world's richest due to its vast reserves of phosphate, a chemical built up mainly from droppings of millions of birds that called the island home for centuries.

Mining of the phosphates, used in fertilizer, started early last century. Almost all of it has now been extracted, leaving the island looking like a moonscape.

Economic mismanagement and graft, coupled with depletion of phosphates, has driven the country to the brink of collapse. In June, Nauru officials were evicted from their consulate in Australia after their government failed to repay US$172 million owed to an American finance company.

"There is consciousness [among Forum nations] that in their days of plenty the Nauruans were quite generous to a number of countries" in the region, Urwin said.

Australia also is sending officials to Nauru to help the government manage its financial affairs and the few assets left after the loss of overseas investments valued at more nearly US$2 billion.

Australia pays millions of dollars each year to Nauru to host a detention center for asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, forum officials said they are confident leaders will adopt recommendations for a regional campaign against the spread of HIV/AIDS to be launched in December.

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