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US tipped to face territorial challenges from tiny Pacific states

BY Michael Field
Agence France-Presse
(Copyright 1996)

AUCKLAND, March 28 (AFP) - Some of the world's smallest states are poisedto challenge United States territorial claims over lonely Pacific atolls, aleading South Pacific political scientist claims.

Professor Ron Crocombe, emeritus professor of the Fiji basedUniversity of the South Pacific (USP), says he believes Hawaii, by earlynext century, may leave the United States.

"I don't know if we will call it full independence, I don't evenknow what independence these days means, but the relationship is changing,"he said in an interview from the Cook Islands Wednesday.

In his book, "The Pacific Islands and the USA," Crocombe says theMarshall Islands, Kiribati and Tokelau are beginning to press their claimson neighbouring American atolls.

Eventually Washington's only Pacific territory will be AmericanSamoa, he says.

The most intriguing claim comes from Kiribati, a central PacificMicronesian state. Its capital, Tarawa, is etched into US history as thesite where in 1943 US Marines staged a seaborne invasion to capture theisland from the Japanese.

There is an element of the revenge of history in some of theclaims. Last century the US claimed the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Tokelau andTuvalu and it was not until the late 1970s that Washington got around torenouncing the claims.

Kiribati includes the Line Islands, except for three atolls,Palmyra, Kingman and Jarvis. The US claims them and while nobody regularlylives on them, a Hawaiian developer wants to build a resort on Palmyra.

Palmyra was last in the news in 1974 when an American seized acouple's luxury yacht, murdered them and sailed away. In an test ofsovereignty a Hawaiian court convicted him of homicide and the drama wascaptured by Hollywood in "And the Sea Shall Tell," a minor thriller.

"Some I-Kiribati (Kiribati nationals) claim those islands belong tothem, and the Kiribati government will probably claim them within ageneration," Crocombe says.

"Kiribati is desperately short of land and trading that land (whichthe USA does not use) to Kiribati is likely to occur in the context of someconcession, support or favour USA wants from Kiribati in the future."

Crocombe said Kiribati had refused to negotiate an exclusiveeconomic zone (EEZ) maritime boundary with the US in respect of the islandsand Howland and Baker Islands, part of the Phoenix Group in Kiribati,claimed by the US. Kiribati, claimed by the US.

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