Pacific island prepares for independence

September 30, 1994|By Christian Science Monitor

KOROR, Palau -- A traditional Micronesian steam bath for a woman about to give birth will open today two days of ceremonies marking the independence of the Republic of Palau, a tiny Pacific island-state with a population of 15,000.

The ceremonies end the last United Nations trusteeship and more than a decade of nominal self-government overseen by the U.S. Department of Interior.

While Palau's neighbors -- the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands -- achieved independence in 1986, and the Northern Marianas chose to become a commonwealth of the United States, Palauans have engaged in an internal struggle over their status since 1981.

Under a "Compact of Free Association" with the United States, Washington will provide financial aid in exchange for "strategic denial," which gives the United States sole jurisdiction over Palau's defense.

While Micronesia and the Marshall Islands have similar treaties, the Palau deal is far more generous: $50 billion over 150 years. In the first year alone, Palau will receive $200 million -- a huge figure, considering last year's budget of $34 million.

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