Antilles break-up closer
Curacao and St Maarten have signed an agreement in The Hague to become autonomous islands within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
That's the outcome of two days of talks which follow on from a vote for the status apart from the Netherlands ahead of the break-up of the five island federation presently scheduled for July 2007.
The remaining smaller islands - Saba, St Eustatius and Bonaire - will become part of the Netherlands.
As part of the agreement, the Dutch government have agreed to pay off the Netherlands Antilles $US 2 billion debt.
But Holland is putting strict procedures in place to dictate how the two islands will manage their budget respective budgets.
The islands will continue to share judicial services but will now have separate police forces.
Curacao, St Maarten and the Dutch government are yet to finalise a plan for the phased implementation of their new autonomy.
That schedule should be in place by February next year leading to the expected formalisation of the island's autonomy five months later.
However observers note that the agreement does not state a specific date for the attainment of the new status.
Nevertheless jubilant government leaders of The Netherlands Antilles federal government and the local governments of Curacao and St Maarten have welcomed the green light for them to go their separate ways.
Netherlands Antilles Prime Minister Emily de Jongh el Hage called the signing "an historic moment."
She said the islands are "separating, but with closer ties and cooperation."
St Maarten's Chief Commissioner Sarah Wescott-Williams declared that "the people of St Maarten shall now get their wish of June 23, 2000."
In a referendum on that date voters on the island chose overwhelmingly for a change of status.
In the same year Curacao also voted for a Separate Status.
The two islands will now have to finalise a series of arrangements on taking over services that they previously shared under the banner of the Netherlands Antilles federal government, and areas in which they would continue to cooperate.
The Dutch Minister for Administration Reform and Kingdom Relations, Atzo Nicolai, called the agreement reached between Holland, Curacao and St Marten, "a unique accomplishment."