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Key backs Pacific Forum growth

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 10/09/2016

Despite significant political disruptions in Fiji, Pacific leaders have passed a series of resolutions at an annual leaders' retreat including one likely to further raise the ire of the boycotting nation.

The forum has grown to 18 by upgrading French Polynesia and New Caledonia from observer status to full membership, a move heavily opposed by Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama but supported by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key who says their presence will strengthen discussions.

Having refused to attend again this year over New Zealand and Australia's continued participation, Mr Bainimarama is believed to be concerned about the further influence of the French as another major power in the region.

Instead he sent Ratu Inoke Kubuabola who was removed as foreign minister in a shock cabinet reshuffle between the opening plenary on Friday and Saturday's leaders' retreat, shortly before authorities detained the leaders of two Fijian opposition parties and a senior trade union official.

"We continue to observe all of the things that take place, we hope that it will be calm and sensible there ... we thought they'd just get on and manage the country, they've got the support of the people they don't need to do anything particularly silly," he said.

Mr Key wouldn't speculate on whether the events in Fiji were designed to be an assertion of power and distract from the forum discussions, but said if that was Mr Bainimarama's motivation it hadn't worked.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said he spoke to Mr Kubuabola on Sunday morning to express New Zealand's "closely interest" in the reshuffle and arrests, which he understands relate to whether permits were granted for a gathering at which some of the detainees were panellists.

"I'm not going to get ahead of the process here, I'd simply say that anything that constrains the space for legitimate political discussion, anything that infringes human rights, would be of concern to us and we'll just have to let this process work its way out," he said.

Fisheries and climate change dominated the formal discussions, with leaders seeking to take action on unregulated unreported fishing by legal fishing boats and associated activities including human trafficking.

The leaders also discussed the deportation of convicted foreign-born citizens or residents, with some debate about the practicalities and concerns around the cost of incarcerating criminals.

"It's one of those delicate issues where on the one hand you would hope that a country accepts someone as a citizen or resident of theirs that they take the good and the bad. But as we've seen in Australia and in the case of New Zealand from time to time we do deport people if we believe that's the appropriate thing to do," Mr Keys aid.

The PM is scheduled to arrive back in New Zealand on Sunday night, winding up a week of meetings with world leaders which kicked off with the East Asia Summit in Laos earlier in the week.

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