11 Mar 2004

PNG talks have not stalled, says Australian official

11:26 am on 11 March 2004

An Australian government official has dismissed claims that talks have stalled between his country and Papua New Guinea over the issue of legal immunity for the Australian police and personnel to be deployed to PNG to help restore law and order.

Talks with Papua New Guinea over Australia's police deployment were reported to have stalled after both nations refused to budge on the issue of legal immunity.

The National newspaper said both countries are threatening to call off the plan to send 230 Australian police because PNG is refusing to grant the legal immunity from PNG law that Australia is demanding for its personnel under the plan.

But the Australian government official says talks are continuing as planned and the deployment will go ahead in due course later this year.

Meanwhile, Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will meet his PNG counterpart Sir Rabbie Namiliu in Sydney next week to continue the talks on Australia's police deployment.

A spokesman for Mr Downer says they are waiting for legislation to be passed by PNG's parliament but the parliament is still in recess.

He says Australia is not seeking complete immunity for its police officers, but wants a guarantee that any officers charged under PNG law would be dealt with by an Australian court.