Thu, Oct 05, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Solomons PM lashes out at Canberra

`BULLYING TACTICS' The Solomon Islands leader said that the child-sex charges against the country's top law officer were politically motivated, and that he would not sack him

AFP , HONIARA

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said yesterday he would not bow to Canberra's "bullying tactics" by sacking his attorney-general over Australian child-sex charges.

Reports yesterday said Julian Moti, who is sheltering in the Solomon Islands embassy in neighboring Papua New Guinea, had his controversial appointment withdrawn following Australian moves to extradite him to face the charges.

But Sogavare said in a statement the reports that the Solomons Judicial and Legal Service Commission had revoked Moti's appointment were untrue.

"I will not be swayed by attempts by Australia to keep Moti from coming to take up his appointment," Sogavare said.

He said Canberra should "stop its bullying tactics of its smaller Pacific Island neighbors to serve its own interests."

Relations between Australia and the Solomon Islands have deteriorated rapidly since last month when Honiara expelled Australia's top diplomat in Honiara, High Commissioner Patrick Cole, accusing him of meddling in local politics.

Moti, an Australian lawyer who is reportedly a close friend of Sogavare's, was arrested on Friday, at Australia's request, during a Port Moresby stopover on his way to Honiara.

He failed to turn up in court on Saturday and on Monday Sogavare said his government was protecting Moti because the Australian charges were politically motivated.

Sogavare said Australia had not been interested in prosecuting him before.

"It is only after the Solomon Islands government appointed this individual to the attorney general post that Australia moved to arrest this person. ... A lot of funny things are going on here," Sogavare said on Monday.

The charges against 41-year-old Moti relate to an incident involving a 13-year-old girl in Vanuatu in 1997. The criminal charges against Moti were dropped by a Vanuatu court, but Australia has now brought its own charges under its sex tourism laws.

Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison yesterday denied the charges were politically motivated or related to the recent worsening of relations between the countries.

Ellison said the Australian Federal Police had been investigating the allegations against Moti since last year.

"It's certainly untrue to say that this is just a recent event or something that is politically based," he said. "I certainly reject any allegations that this has been inappropriately dealt with, it's been according to the law."

Moti provided advice to Sogavare earlier this year on setting up a commission of inquiry into the April riots which destroyed dozens of businesses in Honiara.

Australia has opposed the inquiry, fearing it would be used to undermine legal action against two political allies of Sogavare, who are in jail awaiting trial on charges of inciting the riots.

Australia and New Zealand sent troops to Honiara to quell the riots, which were sparked by the election of Snyder Rini as prime minister. The riots forced Rini to quit after just a week in office, bringing a coalition headed by Sogavare into power. Australia stepped up its involvement in the Solomon Islands in July 2003 when it led an armed intervention force to end five years of civil and ethnic strife.

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