Country Fast Facts:Palau


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Historians take much interest in the navigational routes of European explorers. One such mystery has created much speculation as to whether Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos spotted the islands in 1543. No conclusive evidence exists but there are some who think he could have seen the tip of a southernmost island in the group.

Palau was one of the last of the South Sea islands to be discovered-not only due to a lack of navigation skill but because neighboring islands knew nothing about Melanesia. Palau had limited relations-mainly with Yap and Java.

Had it not have been for ship-wrecked islanders who accidentally took refuge in the Philippines, Europeans likely would not have found a route to Palau until much later.

English Captain Henry Wilson also shipwrecked off the island of Ulong in 1783. Wilson dubbed Palau the "Pelew Islands".

In 1914, Japan invaded the islands, then formally took over under the Treaty of Versailles after the WWI German defeat. Over three decades, the Japanese enforced cultural change. Introduction of an exclusive market economy geared towards Japanese citizens temporarily revoked tribal ownership. Although some reparation was made, defeat did not restore complete order. U.S. intervention only served to widen the legal semantics needed to recover from such an event spanning three different countries with three different tongues.

Peleliu was the scene of a costly battle between American and Japanese forces in 1944, resulting in an Allied victory, though the cost in human terms was high for both sides. After WWII, the United Nations played a role in deciding the U.S. would administer Palau as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

After three decades as part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific under US administration, this westernmost cluster of the Caroline Islands opted for independence in 1978 rather than join the Federated States of Micronesia.

A Compact of Free Association with the US was approved in 1986, but not ratified until 1993.

It entered into force the following year, when the islands gained independence.

Source: CIA World Fact Book