PNG MUST EXPAND ROLE IN SOLOMONS CRISIS

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VIEWPOINT

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 15, 2000 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Even though Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta says Papua New Guinea will offer whatever support is necessary for a resolution of the Solomon Islands crisis, including consultation with its neighbors and the Commonwealth, Honiara is appealing to Australia to send military peacekeepers to intervene in the ethnic conflict, which is pushing the nation to the brink of civil war.

Solomons Minister of State Alfred Sasako says the Solomon Islands needs Australian peacekeepers on Guadalcanal following last week's coup. Mr. Sasako had good reasons not to ask Papua New Guinea. He already did in early May and Waigani chose to ignore his plea.

Yes, Mr. Sasako came to Port Moresby with a personal plea from his Prime Minister and not one minister, not even the Foreign Affairs Minister, was available to see him for the week that he was here.

And he has bitter memories of that visit; he will not forget the in a hurry, especially after the weekend across-the-border raid by a group of Bougainvilleans on Gizo and Choiseul Islands.

As far as the Solomons is concerned, Papua New Guinea has always been good on words and not much else. How the decision makers have been treating our nearest Melanesian neighbor in the recent past leaves a lot to be desired.

Up until the coup, the Solomons had been quietly hoping that PNG would honor the 1997 memorandum of understanding and complete the four-year K 40 million (US$ 16,380,000) grant to compensate for the Bougainville crisis spillover effect.

At the same time, Honiara had expressed concern that Waigani had not replied to its request for PNG to play a leading role in a multi-national police force comprising officers from Pacific Island nations to help quell the ongoing ethnic clash.

Under the MOU signed between Bartholomew Ulufa‘alu and former Prime Minister Bill Skate in Port Moresby, PNG was to pay Honiara K 10 million (US$ 4,095,000) a year for four years starting in 1998.

To date the 1998 commitment has been fulfilled, while last year PNG was only able to pay K 4 million (US$ 1,638,999) and this year's first quarter payment is now due.

The incoming Morauta government made a unilateral decision to cancel the MOU without consultation, a decision which has upset Honiara and led to two protest letters from Mr. Ulufa'alu to Sir Mekere.

On the question of the international peace monitors, PNG appeared to be the only Pacific Island nation not to respond to the Solomon Islands request.

Under the Australian and New Zealand brokered peace initiative, PNG was to be among the 104-strong predominantly Melanesian police force based in Honiara for the next three months to help the local police force rebuild confidence and neutrality.

Yes, PNG cannot remain indifferent to the recent events in the Solomons and must make up for its past blunders by doing what it could to help.

This will also involve consultation with our neighbors and with the Commonwealth to try to ensure that talks between the different factions in the Solomons are resumed as quickly as possible.

It is critical that our efforts are focused on allowing the Solomon Islanders to resolve their differences legally and peacefully.

PNG and the rest of the Island nations do not condone the use of violence or other illegal ways of bringing about changes. We are committed to democratic and representative government.

Individuals or groups who are unhappy with government policies and actions have, like every other person, legal means to effect legitimate change. They should use them.

We can only hope that the proper processes would be used to resolve the crisis in the Solomon Islands.

Now that Foreign Affairs Minister Sir John Kaputin has concluded the foreign policy review, perhaps we should get our priorities right as far as the Solomons and our other nearest neigh ours, apart from Australia, are concerned.

The foreign policy will no doubt have a sharper development focus -- so that the costs involved in PNG's permanent diplomatic representation and participation abroad can be clearly measured against the direct benefits and opportunities which they produce for people in villages, settlements and towns around the country.

They also include the need to ensure that sound policy is matched by committed and competent management, which is both efficient and effective.

The traditional concern with protecting security and related political interests must continue to be important, as recent events in our region have shown.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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