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Kiribati to return to Pacific Islands regional group, ending rift

PACIFIC-KIRIBATI-DIPLOMACY:Kiribati to return to Pacific Islands regional group, ending rift
PACIFIC-KIRIBATI-DIPLOMACY:Kiribati to return to Pacific Islands regional group, ending rift Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023
By Reuters
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SYDNEY - The remote atoll nation of Kiribati said on Monday it would rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum, ending a split that had threatened unity at a time of increased superpower tensions in the strategically-located region.

The decision followed the "fruitful, positive, and successful bilateral meeting" with Fiji's new Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, who travelled to Kiribati on Jan. 20, said a statement posted to the Facebook account of President Taneti Maamau.

The statement said the Kiribati government had formally stated its "positive endorsement to rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum this year 2023".

Kiribati, which is 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) southwest of the U.S. state of Hawaii, switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019.

In July, Kiribati abruptly withdrew from the first in-person meeting of Pacific Island Forum leaders to be held since the pandemic closed borders, and where United States vice president Kamala Harris pledged to triple aid to the region and sought closer maritime surveillance cooperation.

Fiji, the forum's chair, has been pivotal to the region's response to competition between China and the United States, and Rabuka made his first international visit to Kiribati.

Rabuka's coalition government narrowly won a general election in December, the first transition of power in Fiji in 16 years, but has since been warned by Fiji's military against making "sweeping changes".

Fiji's President Wiliame Katonivere on Monday evening announced that Fiji's Chief Justice Kamal Kumar had been suspended on Rabuka's advice.

The suspension followed complaints of alleged misbehaviour, and was in accordance with the constitution, the statement said.

Fiji's police commissioner and its supervisor of elections were suspended on Friday.

Republic of Fiji Military Forces Commander Major General Jone Kalouniwai earlier this month warned Rabuka's government to abide by a 2013 constitution which gives the military a key role.

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