18 Oct 2003

New Zealand defence contigent in Solomons possibly scaled back by Christmas

9:36 am on 18 October 2003

The New Zealand Defence Minister, Mark Burton, says he's hopeful troops can start coming home from Solomon Islands by Christmas.

He says the operation, involving more than 2 thousand 200 police and troops from Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific nations has helped re-establish the authority of Solomon Islands police.

Mr Burton says he expects troops from each country will be scaled back rather than troops from just a few countries pulling out.

"The general expectation would be that we would want to do this in a co-ordinated way. The overall mission that's been there, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, RAMSI as it's called, would be scaled back in a co-ordinated way, obviously so that the elements that remain would be logical, and able to provide ongoing but scaled-back support, to the Solomon Islands authorities."

The Australian Government had earlier indicated that some Australian troops could be home before Christmas.

But both the Solomon Prime Minister's Office and the Pacific Islands Forum say they are unaware of any plans to start withdrawing the soldiers.