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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Aussie Prime Minister Plan visit to heal wounds create by Howard's arrogant attitudes towards PNG and other Pacific Islands States

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is expected to make a five-day visit to PNG beginning on March 3 -- the first of any State visit by an Australian Prime Minister in many years.

The visit is aimed at healing wounds created by his predecessor John Howard’s arrogant attitude towards PNG and other Island States resulting in strained relationship between PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and Mr. Howard.

Howard has never made a State visit to PNG during his 11-year term in office as prime minister except to attend the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Port Moresby two years ago.

PNG Foreign Affairs sources told The National yesterday that Mr. Rudd will have talks with Sir Michael on a number of bilateral issues including Australian aid to PNG, the Defence Cooperation Treaty (DCP), and the Enhancement Cooperation Programme (ECP).

The sources said the Julian Moti issue was also likely to be raised.

Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer had accused PNG leaders and senior bureaucrats of breaching various local and international laws by organizing a clandestine escape for Moti from Port Moresby to Solomon Islands in a PNG Defence Force aircraft in defiance of Australia’s request for his arrest and repatriation back home.

In an angry response, the Australian government cancelled all ministerial forums between Australia and PNG. The forum was a key gathering of ministers of both countries in which issues such as aid support, border matters, trade and technical cooperation were discussed.

Sir Michael and Mr Rudd are expected to meet and agree on re-convening of the ministerial forum.

The ECP, under which Australian police personnel were deployed alongside their PNG counterparts under PNG commanders, came to an abrupt halt in 2005 after a successful court challenge by Morobe Governor Luther Wenge.

It is understood the leaders are expected to agree on a review of the ECP and make it workable within the constitutional framework of PNG.

Rudd’s visit follows an invitation by Sir Michael during their meeting in Bali last December.

Rudd accepted the invitation in Bali and was quoted as saying that he would visit PNG sooner than later in 2008.

While the Australia High Commission is mum about the dates of the visit because of security reasons, officers in Waigani were up-beat about the visit because it heralds a new era in PNG’s relationship with its former colonial administrators.

Sir Michael arrived in Port Moresby yesterday from his holiday in Fiji and Tonga. Sources said he was briefed at the airport on his arrival and endorsed the visit by Rudd.

His officers said the PM would resume normal duties this morning.

"The Prime Minister expects all his ministers to be at work in Port Moresby to prepare for the first session of Parliament this year," he said yesterday.

Meanwhile, Staff of the Foreign Affairs Department were busy at work over the weekend putting their final touches to the new-look foreign policy which is expected to be launched at 9am today in Port Moresby.

Source: Pacific Islands Report

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