Sun, Oct 15, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Solomons threat receives cold shoulder in Canberra

AFP , SYDNEY

The Australian government yesterday shrugged off a Solomon Islands threat to kick it out of the regional force deployed to restore law and order in the troubled Pacific nation.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogovare told parliament on Friday that Australians would be removed if Canberra continued to push for the extradition of suspended Solomon Islands attorney-general Julian Moti.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said it would not respond to the threat, the latest sign of a deepening diplomatic row between the two governments.

"We note the comments made by the Solomon Islands prime minister to the Solomon Islands parliament and respond only with dignified silence," a department spokesman said.

Moti, now in custody in the Solomons and facing charges of illegal entry, is wanted in Australia on child-sex charges involving a 13-year-old girl in Vanuatu in 1997.

However, Sogovare said he would not hand Moti to Australian authorities adding that his government would review the law that allows the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomons (RAMSI) to operate in the country.

RAMSI is an Australian-led force that landed in the Pacific island state in mid-2003 to restore peace, law and order following years of bloody ethnic conflict.

Earlier yesterday, Australia's opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd accused the government of damaging the country's relationship with the Solomons by conducting its diplomacy through a megaphone.

Rudd said there were real problems with the Solomons and it was time for "quiet, private, effective, tough diplomacy" to prevail.

"Providing public lectures and hectoring by the Australian foreign minister ... doesn't help solve the real problem," Rudd told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

He said RAMSI was an important way of stabilizing security in the Solomons and the region.

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