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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Solomons' silence over air space breach described by PNGDF Inquiry as "puzzling"

By Julia Bore

The PNG Defence Force board of inquiry chairman Justice Gibbs Salika yesterday expressed surprise as to why the Solomon Islands government did not immediately protest the violation of its airspace when the PNGDF aircraft brought Moti into the country last October.

Justice Salika made this comment when speaking to the media on the issue of why the Solomon Islands government was adamant in disallowing the inquiry panel to travel to the Solomons. He said he still believed in the importance of the interviews with certain persons in Solomon Islands whose testimonies would “tie up the loose ends” on the Moti clandestine escape.

Justice Salika also called on the public in Solomon Islands who may hold vital information that may help the inquiry to make such information available in writing and forward it to the PNG Foreign Affairs office in Port Moresby or to the panel. That is, if the panel would not be allowed to travel to Solomon Islands.

Salika added that while the most important issue of the inquiry concerned about the person who sanctioned the Defence CASA to fly Moti and his two companions to Munda, it was in the best interest of the two countries for the inquiry to travel to the SI and speak with persons who may be able to help in the investigations. This is because the clandestine flight on those early hours of the morning breached the laws of both Solomon Islands and PNG.

He said PNG laws were broken and Moti breached his PNG bail conditions when he secretly fled to Solomon Islands. Also, in the process of his clandestine flight last Oct 10, civil aviation laws of both countries and the international civil aviation regulations were violated.

The inquiry evidence showed that the aircraft that flew Moti and his companions was not air-worthy. The flight broke CAA laws when it flew without lights, without communication and without safety clearance to take off and to land in both countries.

Justice Salika yesterday said: “All these facts, particularly, the intrusion of Solomon Islands’ airspace makes one wonder: Why was it not the very first issue of the Solomon Islands foreign minister to demand explanations from our Government of this intrusion into their airspace?”

The judge yesterday said these were the kinds of unanswered questions that the inquiry was left with when it completes its final report expected to be delivered to the Defence Minister Martin Aini at the end of this month. He, however, said the primary question that the inquiry wanted an answer was: “Which or who was the ‘high authority’ that ordered the use of the PNG Defence Force facilities and aircraft to ferry the Australian fugitive to SI?”

He said the clue of whom or where the order came from lies in the first diplomatic note from the Solomon Islands government, sent to the PNG Government, sometime in September or October last year which asked for “a safe passage” of its attorney-general designate to the SI. It could be speculated that this was the reason why the SI government is adamant to disallow the panel to travel to Solomons.

Source: PNG National

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