Pacific Islands Forum urged to engage with Fiji
The prime minister of Vanuatu has told the Pacific Islands Forum that regional leaders should still engage with Fiji in order to help restore democracy.
Edward Natapei said the 16-member grouping had a responsibility to Fiji even though it was suspended from the group 15 months ago.
Commodore Frank Bainimarama took power in Fiji in a 2006 coup.
He has failed to hold elections and has instead imprisoned opponents, sacked the judiciary and censored the media.
Mr Natapei, the incoming chair of the Forum, said he was concerned about Fiji's breaches of democratic rule and human rights, but distance was not the answer.
"As leaders of Pacific island nations we have a duty and responsibility to remain engaged with Fiji so that democratic principles and practices can be restored in Fiji as soon as possible."
For his part, Mr Bainimarama said Australia and New Zealand - which have led international condemnation of his rule - should be barred from the Forum.
"They crept in slowly like the proverbial camel, you know, with their head in, and then the front legs, and then the back legs, and all of a sudden the owners of the tent were out and they were inside the tent," he told ABC TV.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key dismissed the comments as "ridiculous".
"We've always played a leadership role in the Pacific, we are going to continue to do that," Mr Key said.
The Forum is also expected to debate the threat of climate change to their coastal communities.