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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 August, 2004, 01:31 GMT 02:31 UK
Pacific Forum opens Samoa talks
Pacific Forum leaders in Apia
Leaders hope to agree a regional Aids initiative
Leaders of some of the world's smallest nations have opened the 35th Pacific Forum in the Samoan capital, Apia.

Politicians from 14 tiny island states, plus Australia and New Zealand, are discussing plans for improved economic and political co-operation.

They will also seek to agree a new Pacific-wide initiative to tackle the problems of Aids and HIV.

On Friday, an appeal was made for help for the nearly bankrupt island of Nauru, on the brink of financial ruin.

Corruption, economic mismanagement and dwindling stocks of phosphate, its main export, mean that Nauru risks becoming a "failed state", said Cook Islands Prime Minister Robert Woonton.

"I hope the bigger countries will look very sympathetically toward the needs of these islands before it becomes a multimillion dollar exercise like the Solomons," he said.

A year ago, Australia led a military intervention force to the Solomon Islands which was suffering increasing violence and economic meltdown.

Nauru has gained much-needed income by housing Australian asylum-seekers in return from aid from Canberra.

It was once the richest per capita nation in the region.

Australia is also to launch a new initiative in its northern neighbour, Papua New Guinea, deploying police officers and public servants there as early as next month.

The attacks in the United States in September 2001 and the Bali bombings just over a year later forced Australia to reassess its dealings with its neighbours.

Plan on Aids

Cook Islands
Federated States of Micronesia
New Zealand
Papua New Guinea
Marshall Islands
Solomon Islands
The government insisted that failing states, such as the Solomon Islands, could become havens for extremists and international criminals.

"Everybody is now taking the Pacific Island Forum far more seriously because they have seen what has been achieved in the Solomon Islands," said Australian Prime Minister John Howard, before he left for the summit.

The Forum also hopes to endorse a new plan to counter HIV and Aids.

In Papua New Guinea, the disease is near to being an epidemic, according to Lourdes Pangelinan, the head of the South Pacific Community.

Elsewhere, there is hope that the disease can be contained with effective strategies.

Saturday's meeting will conclude with participants watching the Australia-New Zealand rugby match, being played in Sydney, in which a number of Pacific origin players will take part.

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