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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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Fijian Academic In New Zealand Supports Kiribati Purchasing Land
Steven Ratuva says sovereignty issues ‘can easily be negotiated’

TARAWA, Kiribati (The Kiribati Independent, Feb. 22, 2013) – A Senior Lecturer in Pacific Studies at the Auckland University’s Centre for Pacific Studies says the Kiribati government’s decision to buy land in Fiji is a good initiative in response to climate change and sea-level rise.

Dr Steven Ratuva says while the government has denied claims that the land will be used for resettlement, it will be eyed as a potential resettlement area in the future.

"Instead of buying food, Kiribati can provide for its own food security, but logistic need to be worked out," he says.

Dr Steven says the issue of sovereignty can easily be negotiated between the two countries. He adds: "Fiji is already home to the people of Banaba (formely known as Ocean Island) in Kiribati who live on the island of Rabi, and is also home to the Tuvaluans on Kioa islands in Fiji."

"Fiji has always been generous in resettling Pacific island neighbours."

"However, if the whole of Kiribati has to be evacuated then we have a problem in our hands. The questions are: Would the land in Fiji be sufficient? Would Australia and New Zealand be willing to help provide land? Are the i-Kiribati going to be relocated as a group or as individuals?" Dr Ratuva says.

He says if they are going to be relocated as a group then the question of sovereignty arises significantly. For instance, would they set up a state of their own in Fiji, and what would be the arrangement like?

"There are a number of possibilities. For instance, Kiribati can negotiate a form of limited sovereignty where they can have an autonomous "state" but still part of Fiji. This is the same as the Bougainville political status within PNG. The people of Rabi have been given a certain degree of autonomy to run their own affairs and become citizens of Kiribati as well as Fiji. Becoming an independent state within Fiji may not be very easy. Other options can be explored," Dr Ratuva explains.

The Kiribati Independent
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