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FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (December 1998 - Tuvalu Echoes)---Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, says he is pleased with the way the relationship between Australia and Tuvalu has developed over the last year.

Mr. Downer, who recently was in Funafuti, is the first Australian Foreign Minister to visit the country since 1990. He said his visit was aimed at reaffirming Australia’s keen interest in building on the positive bilateral relationship with Tuvalu.

"It has provided me with an opportunity to see first hand the often unique problems which an isolated small island country faces in meeting the needs and aspirations of its people.

"We have been able to address issues important to both our governments in a constructive way during my visit," Mr. Downer said.

"The successful conclusion of aid High Level Consultations last September should bring about a balanced program (expected to total $2.9 million for 1998/99) which reflects both countries' development objectives."

Mr. Downer visited the Tuvalu Maritime School at Amatuku and was shown the world standard cargo hold training simulator provided under the Australian aid program.

"The Defense cooperation program is progressing well and reaffirms our commitment to provide strong support for the patrol boat TE MATAILI. This is further underlined by the now completed construction of Australian Defense Force advisor housing on Fongafale," Mr. Down said.

In meetings with Tuvalu government officials, Mr. Downer also reaffirmed Australia’s continued support of the development assistance program as a result of Tuvalu’s sound management of its limited economic and natural resources.

The new Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program was discussed and Mr. Downer joined the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Bikenibeu Paeniu, in signing a formal Statement of Intent to implement the program in Tuvalu.

Mr. Downer said Australia values its partnership with Tuvalu and will continue to stand by the island as it seeks to address the challenges it faces.

(Provided by Seve Paeniu.)

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