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U.S. disappoints sinking Pacific

Fijian soldiers
Fourteen of the South Pacific Forum nations are also Commonwealth members  

SUVA, Fiji (CNN) -- Low-lying Pacific nations have chided the United States for not signing the Kyoto Protocol and have urged Australia to do more to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The leaders of Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, and the Marshall Islands released a joint statement in Suva Friday, expressing profound disappointment in the United States' rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.

The statement did not specifically criticize Australia, which also refuses to sign the accord, but is a large aid donor to the region.

The annual meeting of 16 Pacific nations, which began in the Fijian capital Suva on Thursday, is one of the few international forums for the small, scattered island nations to air their grievances.

Tuvalu leaders say the reality of rising sea-levels through global warming is already apparent in their nation with many formerly dry areas now submerged. Asia
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A former leader of the nation predicted the Pacific could submerge Tuvalu within the next 50 years.

Tuvalu says Australia should be championing the cause of the Pacific nations instead of siding with the United States over global warming.

But Australian Prime Minister John Howard denies there are serious tensions between Australia and its Pacific neighbors, despite the difference of opinion on climate change.

Speaking from Suva Thursday, Howard said he was unconcerned.

"There will be some areas where we differ, but overall the relations are good and there's a lot of work to be done," he said.

Zimbabwe issue

Along with the United States, Australia -- a major global exporter of fossil fuels such as coal -- is one of the few developed nations to refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

He also denied there was disquiet among island nations over Australia's policy of shipping asylum seekers to detention centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

"Suggestions that there's going to be a concerted attack, or even a sporadic attack, on Australia over this issue, I don't see borne out in what I've been told," Howard told television viewers.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, meanwhile, is eager to have the contentious issue of Zimbabwe's land reforms discussed by the forum.

Nuclear waste

Fourteen of the forum nations are Commonwealth members and Clark will use the meeting to drum up support for having Zimbabwe suspended from that grouping over its policy of expelling white farmers from their land.

The Commonwealth consists of 54 nations most of which formerly constituted the British empire.

The recently re-elected Clark will also push for the forum to issue a statement on the transporting of nuclear waste by ship through Pacific water.

New Zealand has a strict anti-nuclear policy and ban nuclear powered or armed ships, or ships carrying nuclear waste, from entering its territorial waters.




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