15 Mar 2004

PNG restates oppostion to Australian immunity demand

4:46 pm on 15 March 2004

The Papua New Guinea prime minister, Sir Michael Somare, has restated his opposition to an Australian push for immunity for Australian police and officials being deployed to PNG.

In a statement to mark a PNG Defence Force ceremony, Sir Michael said Australian defence personnel had never sought legal immunity while serving in PNG.

His remark came ahead of today's meeting in Sydney between the two countries' foreign ministers to discuss the issue.

The prime minister says PNG personnel had never demanded immunity from Australian law when deployed there for joint exercises and training.

PNG refusal to accept the Australian demand threatens to derail Australia's five-year plan to fight crime and corruption in PNG.

Australia insists that any crimes committed by Australian officials be heard in an Australian court.

Meanwhile, the governor of the Morobe province says he's prepared to become the prime minister to do a better job of leading the country.

Luther Wenge says he has called for the resignation Sir Michael over what he believes is the mishandling of the nation's affairs.

He says if he has the numbers to support him, he will stand up for the top job.

Mr Wenge says the country is in crisis and there's been too much recycling of old prime ministers.

He says he also rejects personnel coming from Australia under the Enhanced Cooperation programme, because he believes it's a threat to the country's sovereignty.