13 Sep 2006

Australian diplomat expelled from Solomon Islands

10:13 am on 13 September 2006

Australia's top diplomat in Solomon Islands is being thrown out of the country amid a damaging row over Canberra's alleged meddling in the country's politics.

High Commissioner Patrick Cole has been declared persona non grata by the Solomons government and is expected to return to Australia within days.

Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says Mr Cole had been accused of interfering in local politics by talking too much to the Solomons opposition and expressing concern about a commission of inquiry into riots which trashed the capital Honiara in April

Mr Downer says Mr Cole's expulsion is outrageous.

He says Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade deputy secretary David Ritchie, has been despatched to the country and will meet Solomon's prime minister Mannessah Sogavare to discuss the inquiry and Mr Cole's expulsion.

Mr Downer said the government was worried the inquiry would undermine court cases against two Solomons MPs accused of inciting the riots, and try to shift blame onto police - including Australian officers serving in the country.