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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Australia describes diplomat expulsion from Solomon Islands as simply 'outrageous'

By Michelle Grattan

Australia's diplomatic relations with the Solomon Islands have taken a turn for the worse, with the expulsion of the high commissioner, Patrick Cole, from Honiara.

Australia Foreign Minister Alexander Downer last night accused the Solomon Islands' Prime Minister of outrageous behaviour in expelling Australian high commissioner Patrick Cole.

Solomons leader Manasseh Sogavare called Prime Minister John Howard on Monday to say he was declaring Mr Cole persona non grata.

Mr Downer said Mr Cole was "a very experienced and a very professional Australian public servant".

He was being kicked out on the grounds that Mr Sogavare believed he had been talking too much to the Solomons opposition and had apparently opposed the commission of inquiry Mr Sogavare set up into the riots early this year.

The Australian Government believes the judicial inquiry could derail attempts to bring to justice two MPs accused of starting the riots that tore apart the capital.

Mr Downer said it was not Mr Cole but the Australian Government that had concerns about the commission of inquiry, which appeared to be "the way of trying to get two people who are before the courts … out somehow". Australia thought it cut across the legal process.

Asked whether Mr Cole's fate could have been sealed this year by a leaked email in which he was reported to have commented on corruption in Honiara, Mr Downer said: "If anybody talked about corruption in Honiara they wouldn't be Robinson Crusoe."

Mr Downer said some Solomons politicians saw the operation by the international assistance force under Australian control "standing between them and the honey pot". The action against Mr Cole was outrageous and extremely unprofessional, he said.

Earlier, Mr Downer told Parliament the Government would send the Foreign Affairs Department's deputy secretary, David Ritchie, to protest about the commission. He is expected to meet Mr Sogavare and others today in Honiara. Australia believed the commission would try to blame the riots on police (including Australia's) rather than the people responsible.

Source: The Age

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