The countries that dot the southern half of the world's largest ocean are known for their peaceful, sand-ringed islands and their sun-drenched coral atolls. But the problems of the nuclear age are intruding on this tranquillity. Last week the 13-nation South Pacific Forum met in Rarotonga, capital of the Cook Islands, to consider a treaty declaring the area between the equator and Antarctica and between Australia and South America a nuclear-free zone. Eight members, including Australia, New Zealand, Western Samoa and tiny Niue (estimated population 3,400), signed the treaty. Four others are expected to ratify the agreement in the near future. Only Vanuatu refused, calling it impractical and ineffective.
The treaty prohibits member nations from acquiring nuclear explosives, testing atomic weapons and dumping nuclear waste. But individual countries will decide whether to allow ships or aircraft equipped with nuclear weapons to cross their territories. New Zealand's ruling Labor Party has refused to allow port calls by nuclear-powered or -armed warships. Last week Prime Minister David Lange said he plans to introduce legislation before the end of the year to make the ban permanent.EL SALVADOR The Bishops' Bleak Warning
The pastoral letter from El Salvador's Roman Catholic bishops was pessimistic. It cited the "grave situation affecting almost all Salvadorans . . . due most of all to the violence of war" and warned of an imminent escalation in the country's six-year civil conflict. The bishops pointed with concern to the "stagnation and deterioration" of the peace talks initiated last October between rebels of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front and the government of Salvadoran President José Napoleón Duarte. Concluded the letter: "If the dialogue fails, no other path will remain for El Salvador but total destruction, with a very elevated cost in human lives and a possibly irreparable deterioration of national unity."
The bishops' main concern is that both sides in the conflict now view peace talks as no more than a tactical tool to further their military aims. The Salvadoran army has been gaining ground in the countryside against the Marxist-led FMLN. For their part, the guerrillas have warned that they intend to bring the war back to the streets of San Salvador, the capital.CUBA Castro's Fugitive Guest
Since fleeing the U.S. in 1972, Robert Vesco, 49, has reportedly been in Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Antigua and Nicaragua. Last week Cuban President Fidel Castro confirmed a news report that his country was Vesco's latest host. But Castro ridiculed speculation that the fugitive American financier was being held against his will. Castro told a news conference in Havana that Vesco arrived in Cuba three years ago seeking medical treatment for an unknown ailment. He is wanted in the U.S. in connection with a $224 million fraud case involving Investors Overseas Services Ltd. and for allegedly making an illegal contribution to Richard Nixon's 1972 presidential reelection campaign.