PNG Inquiry adament to go to Honiara, preferably this friday
The chairman of the PNG Defence Force Board of Inquiry Justice Gibbs Salika yesterday insisted they should travel to the Solomon Islands to interview witnesses despite refusal by Honiara for them to do so.
As Justice Salika and his team held talks with PNG Foreign Affairs officials to persuade Honiara to allow them in, the Australian government weighed in, renewing its call for those behind the illegal flight that spirited fugitive Julian Moti to the Solomon Islands on Oct 10 last year, to be brought to justice.
But Honiara became more blunt yesterday, conveying a message to the board that it did not want the inquiry to be convened in Honiara. It had previously asked the board to ‘delay’ the trip.
Justice Salika insisted that conducting “one on one” interviews in the Solomon Islands with witnesses was crucial to establishing who was behind the clandestine flight, which violated PNG as well as aviation and international laws and angered Australia. Salika believes his team can conduct interviews within the PNG High Commission sanctuary in Honiara.
The inquiry board met with PNG’s Foreign Affairs and Trade personnel yesterday morning. It is understood they asked for a diplomatic note to be sent to Honiara seeking to renegotiate for the inquiry to be allowed into Solomon Islands, preferably this Friday.
Justice Salika on Monday pointed out that under Regulation 10 of the PNGDF Act; a board of inquiry may conduct an inquiry and exercise its powers and functions 'outside the country'. The board has only until Feb 13 to finalise a report for the Minister for Defence, and Justice Salika said time was not on their side.
“We are not going there to convict their people. That is not our intention. We want to establish who in the Solomon Islands sanctioned Moti’s flight using the PNGDF aircraft. We found out here our Government was not aware of Moti being flown out of PNG to Munda in Solomon Islands. We want to find out if the Solomon Islands government was aware of the flight or whether it (the SI government) paid for the flight.”
But Solomon Islands High Commissioner to PNG Bernard Bata’anisia said in a statement yesterday his government’s position had not changed.
“This is an internal matter for Papua New Guinea and as such, it would be inappropriate for the inquiry board to visit Solomon Islands.”
Mr Bata’anisia said this was a sovereign decision made by the Solomon Islands government and should be understood in that context.