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By Mary-Louise O'Callaghan and Robert Garran

SYDNEY, Australia (June 6, 2000 - The Australian/PINA Nius Online)---The Howard Government last month refused a personal plea from Solomon Islands Prime Minister Bart Ulufa‘alu for urgent assistance with policing in the troubled South Pacific capital, Honiara.

The request was made repeatedly during three urgent visits to the Solomons in April and May by senior Australian official Greg Urwin.

Mr. Ulufa‘alu asked if Australian police could be sent specifically to assist with restoring law and order in the Solomon Islands.

The Solomons Prime Minister, who was being held in protective care yesterday by members of the armed militia known as the Malaita Eagle Force, has repeatedly said that the country's police force, dominated by officers from the island of Malaita, could not be relied upon.

Refusing the request for police, Canberra instead offered to pay for 50 police from Fiji and other South Pacific countries.

Most of the police were to come from Fiji, but when they could not be spared after the coup in Suva, Australia failed to make other arrangements, Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Laurie Brereton said yesterday.

"Despite repeated warnings, despite all the calls, John Howard and his colleagues have basically sat on their hands and adopted a minimalist policy towards the desperate pleas of the Solomon Islands for Australian assistance."

Opposition frontbencher Duncan Kerr yesterday released a May 5 letter to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in which he urged Australia to take part, along with New Zealand, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, in a delegation of police from Commonwealth countries.

Mr. Kerr said government and opposition leaders and the Solomon Islands Chief Justice had all strongly backed the request for Australian help. Mr. Downer rejected the criticism, saying Australian Federal Police were already heavily committed in East Timor.

"Australia can't be held responsible for everything that goes wrong in a region which is a fragile part of the world," he said.

"Part of the problem here is that a number of people in the Solomon Islands have been very upset about the Prime Minister looking to the international community always for support, rather than trying to negotiate the problem within the Solomon Islands," Mr. Downer said.

Mr. Downer said there were four Australian officials in Honiara seeking a way to assist in resolving the conflict.

Mr. Downer and Mr. Howard condemned the coup.

"We are very concerned about this morning's events in the Solomon Islands," the Prime Minister told parliament.

"We do utterly condemn the kidnapping of the Prime Minister and the Governor-General by armed militants with assistance from elements of the police."

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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