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A win for Micronesians in Hawai’i

December 16, 2010 

As reported in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Micronesian islanders in Hawai’i who are part of the group of Compact of Free Association (COFA) nations won a court victory to restore health insurance benefits several days ago:

A federal judge ordered the state yesterday to restore lifesaving health benefits to low-income legal migrants from Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau, a ruling that will cost taxpayers millions.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright issued a preliminary injunction requiring that more than 7,500 Pacific islanders receive health coverage equal to plans provided to Medicaid recipients.

The cash-strapped state had tried to save about $8 million annually by offering fewer benefits under a free plan called Basic Health Hawaii that went into effect July 1, but Seabright’s ruling ends that effort.

COFA islanders have a unique immigration status due to their countries’ relationships with the U.S.:

Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau are beneficiaries of the Compact of Free Association, a 1986 pact with the United States granting it the right to use defense sites in exchange for financial assistance and migration rights after it used the Pacific islands for nuclear weapons testing from 1946 to 1958.

While the state of Hawai’i has a large number of migrants from the COFA islands, the federal government has not fulfilled its obligation to cover the cost of health care for these islanders.  Many of the health problems faced by the Micronesians in Hawai’i are the results of U.S. policies in the northern Pacific: nuclear fallout and/or the disruption of traditional economies, lifestyles and diets that have caused new health problems.

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Palau: Senate asks U.S. to consider Angaur as Futenma relocation site

April 30, 2010 

http://www.mvariety.com/2010042826058/local-news/senate-asks-u.s.-to-consider-angaur-as-futenma-relocation-site.php

Senate asks U.S. to consider Angaur as Futenma relocation site

Wednesday, April 28 2010 15:19 By Bernadette H. Carreon

KOROR (Palau Horizon) – The Senate has adopted a resolution asking President Johnson Toribiong to offer the State of Angaur as an alternative location for the United States’ Airbase following plans to relocate the Futenma Airbase from Okinawa, Japan.

Resolution 8-53 stated that Angaur State can be utilized for the “United States military, strategic planning for the relocation of the Futenma Airbase from Okinawa, Japan.”

Resolution 8-53 requests President Johnson Toribiong to discuss with the government of the United States, through diplomatic channels the plan.

The resolution said that under the Compact of Free Association, U.S. has the right options to use lands in Palau for military defense.

The resolution cited that on the April 13-15, 2010 issue of the Palau Horizon, two members of the Japanese Diet; namely, the Honorable Takamine Zenshin and Tinian-born Representative Teruya Kantoku, expressed strong desire for the Island of Tinian in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as a likely site to relocate Futenma Airbase from Okinawa, Japan.

The senators said historically Angaur has been used as a military support by the U.S. during World War II.

The resolution stated that a nearly 10,000 feet runway was constructed on Angaur Island from September 17-30, 1944 following a six-day, non-stop bombardment by USS Tennessee and landing on Angaur of the US 81st Infantry Division under the Command of Major General Paul J. Muller and from this newly constructed airfield US military aircrafts flew over to and bombed the Island of Peleliu and that said Angaur airfield provided much needed support for the invasion and the eventual US victory of the Battle of Peleliu.

It added, several years later said Angaur Airfield was put to civilian use as interim airport for commercial airplanes to land throughout the time Airai International Airport was under construction for resurfacing and extension of the runways.

Under Title III, Article II – Defense Sites and Operating Rights – in Section 321 of the Compact of Free Association “allows the United States to establish and use defense sites in Palau, and may designate land and water areas and improvements in accordance with terms and conditions set forth in a separate subsidiary agreement known as the Military Use and Operating Rights Agreement.”

Japan wanted the airbase out of Okinawa.

Palau’s senate offers land for U.S. Pacific base

April 28, 2010 

In the 1980s, the people of Palau fought very hard to institute a nuclear free constitution. But the U.S. refused to accept the nuclear prohibition and made Palauans revise their constitution.   In the end, after a campaign of political terror, a constitution was ratified that did not contain the nuclear free clause.  It is a tragic irony that the present leaders in Palau are actively courting the same military power that once derailed their self-determination efforts.

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http://australianetworknews.com/stories/201004/2884918.htm?desktop

Palau’s senate offers land for US Pacific base

Last Updated: Wed, 28 Apr 2010 15:54:00 +1000

Palau’s Senate has asked President President Johnson Toribiong to offer the state of Angaur as an alternative location for the US Futenma air base in Okinawa, Japan.

The Marianas Variety reports that under the Compact of Free Association, the US military has the option to use lands in Palau.

The senators also noted that two Japanese politicians recently visited the CNMI to look at a site being considered by Japan as a likely relocation site for Futenma.

Okinawa residents are protesting at Japan’s 2006 agreement to relocate the US base to a coastal part of the island.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama vowed to review the agreement but has struggled to find an alternative location.

Palau mourns soldier’s death and opposes Guantanamo detainees

June 17, 2009 

http://wire.antiwar.com/2009/06/16/soldiers-death-guantanamo-detainees-rattle-palau-2/

Soldier’s death, Guantanamo detainees rattle Palau

Palau mourns countryman killed in Afghanistan while serving in US Army

TOMOKO A. HOSAKA
AP News

Jun 16, 2009 10:33 EST

The war in Afghanistan hit too close to home for the tiny village of Ngardmau in this remote, close-knit Pacific nation.

Hundreds throughout Palau, from children to the president, gathered Tuesday in sweltering heat to mourn Jasper Obakrairur, a 26-year-old U.S. Army sergeant and the first Palauan killed in Afghanistan. They wept as if he were one of their own.

And in a way, he is. For this archipelago of some 20,000 where families and acquaintances are deeply intertwined, just one casualty represents a collective tragedy. The young soldier’s death has shocked Palau’s core and left many questioning whether it was sacrificing too much for the U.S.-led effort.

“I’m always telling our leadership, us Palauans, we are very few,” said Queen Bilung Salii, the country’s highest-ranking female traditional leader. “And here we are sending our kids to war.”

As they bid farewell to their native son, Palauans at the funeral expressed anxiety over the expected arrival of 13 men detained as possible terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Their country leapt into headlines recently after agreeing to President Barack Obama’s request to take the group of Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs, after other countries turned Washington down.

The Uighurs (pronounced WEE’-gurs), a Turkic people from China’s far western region of Xinjiang, were captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001. The Pentagon determined last year that they were not “enemy combatants.”

Palau’s president, Johnson Toribiong, has described the agreement as a humanitarian gesture, in line with his people’s tradition of welcoming those in need.

Still, the decision does not sit well with Florencia Ebelau, who watched Obakrairur’s state funeral on a TV monitor outside the Capitol rotunda. Flags flew at half-staff, and Toribiong declared Tuesday a national day of mourning.

The proceedings were followed by a Palauan service in Obakrairur’s village in Ngardmau, on the western coast of the biggest island.

Ebelau, 64, worries that the Uighurs will threaten the tranquility and safety of Palau.

“It’s good to be nice to other people, but only as much as you can afford to,” said Ebelau, whose women’s group includes one of the fallen soldier’s relatives. “I don’t mean to be a nasty person, but we cannot afford that kind of thing.”

When asked about the president’s possible motives, she, along with many others, said, “Because the U.S. asked us to.”

Fermin Meriang, editor of the local Island Times newspaper, has been a vocal critic of the Uighur issue in his publication. The public should have been consulted before a final decision, he said.

“Otherwise, you get what’s happening right now – a backlash,” he said.

Palau is one of the world’s smallest countries, totaling 190 square miles (490 square kilometers) of lush tropical landscapes. Its economy depends heavily on tourism and foreign aid, mainly from Washington.

Toribiong has repeatedly denied that his country stands to benefit financially in exchange for accepting the Uighurs. But the arrangement coincides with the start of talks to review the agreement that governs Palau’s relationship with the U.S.

Under the Compact of Free Association, U.S. aid to Palau from 1995 to 2009 is expected to exceed $852 million, according to a report last year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. It includes direct funding as well as access to U.S. postal, aviation and weather services.

The compact also allows Palauans to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

The military does not release specific numbers on how many Palauans are currently serving, but it has been a prominent option for young men seeking career, educational and travel opportunities unavailable at home.

Toribiong estimates that about 30 to 40 Palauans join the U.S. armed forces every year. Locals regularly claim that per capita, Palau sends more people to the military than the U.S.

Obakrairur was killed by a roadside bomb on June 1 in Nerkh, Afghanistan. Three other Palauans have been killed while serving in Iraq.

“In the past, a lot of Palauans joined the military, but nothing like this had ever happened,” said Vameline Singeo, who attended elementary school with Obakrairur. “Before it was more of a positive thing. Now that there have been deaths, people are more reserved in sending their kids.”

Obakrairur is his family’s only son. He was posthumously awarded a bronze star and purple heart Tuesday.

Source: AP News