Koreas Unification Church dipping its toe into South Pacific

AFP/January 19, 2001

Auckland -- South Koreas Unification Church is spreading through the Pacific amid allegations it nearly brought down one government and has links to the military-backed regime in Fiji.

Known as the "Moonies" after its leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon, it is following a well-worn missionary route through the Pacific where it is competing with the deeply entrenched Christian church and with Christian values enshrined in the constitution.

Last week President Kessai Note of the Marshall Islands survived a no-confidence vote bought on, in part, by his new-found Unification connections. This week Fiji Information Minister Inoke Kubuabola attended a World Media Conference (WMA) in Tokyo, sponsored and funded by the Unification Church. But in a press statement afterwards, he made no mention of the connections between the church and the conference.

Moon says he was visited by Jesus Christ in 1935 who directed him to establish what has since become the Unification Church, founded in South Korea in 1954, now with around 200,000 members worldwide. It is known for its cult-like behaviour, including mass marriages in major sporting venues around the world.

Politically very right-wing, the organisation has also been criticised for its business practices, alleged tax evasion and manipulation of public opinion. Last November, Unification officials showed up in the Marshalls saying they were setting up a Pacific government task-force, pledging 10 million dollars for Pacific education and fisheries development.

Unification spokesman Peter Murray of Australia said the idea was to bring island people together to seek "a commonality of problems and solutions." Earlier this month two other officials arrived in the Marshalls to begin construction of a new high school.

One of them, Neil Salonen, president of the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, said that as people get more familiar with Moons program and activities they would not view him or his organisation as "scary." Last week president Note survived a no confidence motion 19-14 which was promoted by rival Senator Justin deBrums opposition to Moon. DeBrum said Christians throughout the Marshall Islands strongly disagreed with Moons self-proclaimed status as the "Messiah."

Meanwhile, in Fiji, the information ministry announced that Kubuabola, a strong critic of the local media, had gone to the church's World Media Conference along with Information Director Eliki Bomani and the editor of the part government-owned Daily Post, Mesake Koroi.

"(Kubuabola) joins 300 other media professionals and political figures from over 60 countries who have gathered to consider the responsibility of the media in a rapidly changing world," the ministry statement said, adding the theme of the gathering was "A Unified Direction for the Media in the New Millennium."

"Amongst other things, a crucial issue to be discussed at the conference is the impact of media behaviour on political relations both within and between nations. "The WMA which funded the trip to the conference, has played a pioneering role in raising public awareness of media influence and responsibility through its conferences, fact-finding tours and publications."

The Unification Church website (www.unification.org) says the WMA conference brings journalists together to "discuss the role of the media in resolving conflict and promoting understanding."

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