16 Oct 2006

Fiji says regional security threatened by Solomons/Australia row

4:01 pm on 16 October 2006

The Fiji government says the security of the Pacific region could be jeopardised by the escalating stoush between Solomon Islands and Australia.

The Solomon's Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, is threatening to terminate Australia's participation in the regional assistance mission, RAMSI, which arrived three years ago to restore law and order after years of ethnic tension.

The move is linked to Australia's push to have the suspended Solomons Attorney General, Julian Moti, extradited on child sex charges.

Fiji - which is hosting the Pacific leaders summit in Nadi next week - says the development is a major setback.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Kaliopate Tavola, says if Australia withdraws, the region will be destabilised.

"This is a major setback if it is escalating, which would mean the withdrawal of Australian resources and personnel, we are reverting to a situation of insecurity in the Pacific."

Mr Tavola says RAMSI owes its success to Australia, which has pumped 600 million US dollars into the mission so far.

Meanwhile New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters, says he's not been approached by the Solomons about New Zealand's participation in RAMSI.

Mr Peters says his information is that Mr Sogavare didn't go as far as threatening to remove the Australians, and the reports need to be confirmed.

However he says if the media got it right, then this is a major concern.

There is a concern that this has arisen, and over some time, and with respect to the forum, exactly what the role of the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands will be. We are one of 13 countries involved in RAMSI, we will want to know exactly what is going on.

Mr Peters says the matter will most certainly come up at the Forum, if not before.