BY MICHAEL FIELD
The call came ahead of this week's Pacific Forum summit in Auckland where New Zealand and Australia face embarrassment, with members set to give Fiji strongman Frank Bainimarama a ringing endorsement - even without him present.
Fiji was suspended from the forum following Bainimarama's failure to restore democracy.
New Zealand prime minister John Key, who will chair the 40th meeting of the Pacific Forum, faces a Melanesian and Micronesian rebellion over his hard line on Bainimarama, who seized power in a military coup in 2006.
Fiji hosted a shadow summit last week and in a communiqué the Papua New Guinea, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu endorsed Bainimarama's plan to hold off having elections until 2014.
In a significant victory for Bainimarama, PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill endorsed the communiqué.
At the Fiji forum, Pacific leaders said they supported Bainimarama's change plan "as a credible home grown process for positioning Fiji as a modern nation state and to hold parliamentary elections."
They did not specially ask for Fiji to be returned to the forum fold, but in diplomatic language they recalled "the importance of Fiji's continuous engagement with the region and its full participation in regional development initiatives and programs."
In an unusual statement the Pacific leaders also endorsed Fiji's view that the international media do not report Bainimarama's achievements.
They said they "supported the need to publicise and disseminate more and accurate information on the Fiji government's progress..."
This came on top of a leaked US diplomatic cable revealing a top Australian politician saying that "Bainimarama will either be shot or we'll have to do business with him".
Source: Stuff NZ, 4 September