Agreement reached on Antilles future

The future of the people of the Netherlands Antilles has been ‘assured’ with the signing of an agreement between the island authorities and the Dutch government, prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende said on Tuesday.

The deal signed at a conference in Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao includes ‘important agreements’ for the future, Balkenende said. It ensures a ‘clean starting position’ for the five islands because the Netherlands has agreed to shoulder 70% of their debt – some €1.7bn – in return for legal and financial controls.
Next year, work will begin on fleshing out the agreement and the new constitutional framework. ‘We have taken a new step for the future of the kingdom but the work is not yet completed,’ Balkenende was reported as saying by news agency ANP.
As agreed several years ago, Curaçao and St Maarten will get a new, independent status. The three smaller islands of Saba, Bonaire and St Eustatius will become part of the Netherlands, and their island governments will become the equivalent of local councils with a mayor instead of a governor.
Not all the locals are happy about the new arrangements and argue that the Netherlands will still have too much say in island affairs.
Balkenende’s visit has been marred by protests, and the conference had to be moved to a new location on a navy base because of a bomb threat on Monday afternoon.
Some 200 protestors had gathered outside the earlier meeting place, many wearing yellow Stars of David in protest at Dutch government plans to introduce a special register of Antillean youth with criminal connections. Those plans were dropped on Monday night.
Balkenende said he was shocked by the protests. ‘Demonstrators used the Star of David as a protest, there was a bomb threat, demonstrators used threatening language. That cannot be the future of Curaçao,’ he was reported as saying by ANP.
The Antilles hope their new status will become a reality in 2010.

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