POHNPEI (ABC/Pacnews) — The president of the Federated States of Micronesia says his country will proceed with a withdrawal from the Pacific Islands Forum but “sincere” apologies from regional leaders have improved strained relations.
During a virtual meeting this week, David Panuelo said the prime ministers of Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa apologized to Micronesian leaders over the dispute surrounding the election of the Forum's secretary general earlier this year.
“They all apologized and that's why, when you have leaders come in with humility recognizing the importance of the unity of our Pacific family unity, it's very heart-warming,” Panuelo said.
He and the leaders of the four other Micronesian countries were angered when their candidate for the secretary general position was not chosen and they jointly decided to withdraw from the Forum.
They believed the election of former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna violated a “gentleman's agreement” to rotate the position among the sub-regions of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia.
Panuelo says the decision to withdraw from the Forum still stands but “the way forward is very positive.”
“The position remains the same but the dialogue continues and so therefore in May I believe we will be having a much more in-depth review,” he said.
The apologies were made at the first meeting of what's been called the Forum Troika Plus dialogue which includes Micronesian leaders and Forum representatives.
Panuelo said all parties agreed the appointment of the Forum's secretary general needs to be reformed and further discussions will be held in May.