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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Solomons demand for a Downer apology not forthcoming casting doubts over proposed meeting in Vanuatu

The Solomons government had demanded an apology from Downer for using an open letter, published in local newspapers, to criticise Solomons Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

But the Australian High Commission in Honiara advised last week that no apology would be forthcoming, Sogavare's office said in a statement.

Without the apology, a meeting between Downer and Patteson Oti planned for later this month could not happen, the statement said.

Downer angered Sogavare last month by publishing a letter in three Solomons newspapers, accusing his government of deliberately trying to undermine the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

Downer called on Solomon Islanders to support RAMSI and reject Sogavare's plan to rearm police, a plan the prime minister has since dropped due to overwhelming public opposition.

Sogavare condemned Downer's move, saying he had no right to communicate directly with Solomon Islanders and accused Canberra of trying to run a parallel government in his country.

Downer and Oti had been due to meet at a gathering of Pacific Islands Forum foreign ministers in Vanuatu on March 16.

After the letter was published last month, Downer accused Sogavare of trying to get rid of RAMSI and return to the days when the Solomons was run by militants.

But in his latest statement, Sogavare said "such ridiculous claims made through the media have contributed in part to the breakdown in the relationship between Honiara and Canberra".

Any differences between the Solomons government and RAMSI were matters to be properly dealt with by the forthcoming Pacific Islands Forum review of RAMSI, endorsed by forum leaders last year, he said.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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