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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Australian PM heads off on relation strengthening trip to PNG today and later to Solomons on Saturday

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (pictured) will make his first visit to Papua New Guinea today and later travel to Honiara to meet the Solomon Islands prime minister Dr Derek Sikua on Saturday.

While in PNG Mr Rudd, his counterpart Michael Somare and other dignitaries will discuss climate change initiatives, the Kokoda Track and the viability of a seasonal migrant workers scheme in Australia.

He may also discuss the possibility of putting Australian police back on PNG streets, after Internal Security Minister Sani Rambi said he would support a revamped Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP).

Australian police began deploying in PNG under the ECP in late 2003 but around 150 were withdrawn in May 2005 after PNG's Supreme Court ruled their legal immunity conflicted with PNG's constitution.

The failed plan to boost PNG's rundown police force and tackle police corruption was one of several issues to cause problems between the two countries during former prime minister John Howard's term.

Following the withdrawal of Australian police, a small number of Australian ECP officials have continued to work in other PNG government departments such as treasury, justice, customs and immigration.

Mr Rudd's three-day visit is the first by an Australian prime minister to PNG since Mr Howard attended the Pacific Island Forum leaders meeting in October 2005.

The much anticipated tour has seen a city makeover including pothole filling, the erection of scores of new flagpoles and a lick of paint along roads Mr Rudd will travel.

More than 1,000 schoolchildren will take part in a traditional welcome ceremony that also includes a 19-gun salute, guard of honour and traditional dancing.

©AAP 2008

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