Pacific leaders apologise to Micronesia after forum chooses Cook Islands' candidate as new leader

Troika Plus Pacific political dialogue.
Troika Plus Pacific political dialogue. Photo credit: RNZ/supplied

Micronesian leaders have received an apology from their colleagues in the Pacific Islands Forum.

In what has been described as a frank and open political dialogue on Monday the forum leaders aimed to heal the wounds caused by the selection of the Cook Islands' Henry Puna as the new secretary general of the agency.

Micronesia's leaders believed they had a commitment that their candidate, Gerald Zackios from the Marshall Islands, would be named secretary general. In February, the five Micronesian members of the forum announced they would leave in protest at the selection.

But in a virtual meeting, dubbed the Troika Plus dialogue, on Monday, the Micronesian leaders heard apologies from Papua New Guinea's James Marape, Fiji's Frank Bainimarama, Samoa's Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Mailielegaoi and the outgoing secretary general Dame Meg Taylor.

The leaders expressed regret and acknowledged that the situation could have been managed differently and better.

The forum chair, Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano, reminded the leaders the dialogue was to listen to the concerns and issues of the Micronesian presidents and to "secure the solidarity of our region".

Nauru's President Aingimea was deeply thankful and moved by the depth of sincerity in an apology that he said "resonates deep within my heart".

"Leadership is shown at times like this and to the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, the Prime Minister of Samoa, and the Prime Minister of Fiji, you have shown yourselves to be able leaders; wise leaders, in bringing words like this to us here," he said.

Marape appealed to Micronesia not to leave the forum and encouraged the leaders to "break bread" and right the wrong.

He reiterated his choice in voting with Micronesia at the election of the PIF secretary-general, and urges that in the interest of regional solidarity the election of the secretary general should be on rotation even if it was not a written agreement, for what he describes as for brotherhood.

Samoa's Tuila'epa said the meeting came at an opportune time and that more time for discussion could have reached an appropriate way out.