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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (December 17, 2000 - Radio Australia/PINA Nius Online)---Australia and New Zealand are supporting moves to discuss setting up a West Pacific Forum, Radio Australia reported.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer ended his trip to New Zealand, with a call for the two countries to build stronger diplomatic and trade links with South East Asia.

Mr. Downer had been in New Zealand for four days of annual bilateral talks, and now is visiting Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

He said during the talks in New Zealand, support was given to the idea of establishing a West Pacific Forum involving Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

He said: "Both Australia and New Zealand have taken a positive position on this. We feel that it would be useful if there were to be a ministerial meeting of relevant foreign ministers in Jakarta in the first quarter of next year."

Indonesia earlier proposed setting up a new regional group to include itself, neighboring Australia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

The Jakarta Post newspaper reported that President Abdurahman Wahid raised the possibility during a meeting with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji during a two-day summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore.

During the meeting President Wahid said he wanted to included Papua New Guinea and East Timor in ASEAN discussions, Radio Australia reported.

But since that idea was not enthusiastically supported by ASEAN members he said he would push for a new regional grouping.

A spokesman for the Indonesian leader said President Wahid was not happy with ASEAN's emphasis on economic competitiveness and not on solidarity among its 10 member countries.

A proposal for a new grouping comes despite Indonesia's cool relations towards Australia because of the leading role played in peacekeeping operations in United Nations administered East Timor.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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

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