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Monday, October 16, 2006

Sogavare refuses to withdraw RAMSI threat as SI-Aust relationship reaches new low

By ABC correspondent Steve Marshall

The Solomon Islands Prime Minister is refusing to withdraw a threat to terminate Australia's aid package to the Solomons.

Manasseh Sogavare says he will replace the Australian-led assistance mission RAMSI if Australia does not drop its request for the suspended Solomon Islands Attorney-General Julian Moti to be extradited to face alleged child sex offences.

According to Mr Sogavare, Australia's choice is simple - leave Moti alone, or leave the Solomon Islands.

The Honiara riots in April this year underline the fragile situation in the Solomons. But Mr Sogavare says he has a contingency plan to replace the RAMSI mission if Canberra continues to demand his Attorney-General be handed over.

Recently Australia committed $800 million over four years to the peacekeeping mission that arrived in 2003 to curb ethnic fighting. Today more than 300 Australian police and soldiers patrol Honiara with another 160 Australians working within government departments.

RAMSI coordinator James Batley is seeking clarification from the Solomons Government, which he will present to the 14 countries that make-up the Regional Assistance Mission. The threat over RAMSI's future is sure to be high on the agenda when prime ministers across the region, including Australia's John Howard and Mr Sogavare, meet for the Pacific Islands' Forum in Fiji next month. All member nations contribute in some way to RAMSI.

Source: ABC News

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