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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (April 7, 2001 – ABC Australia News Online)---Australia has warned the Solomon Islands that it is heading for trouble if it establishes a defense force.

Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is under pressure from his paramilitary police to set up a full-scale army.

However, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told him it is a risky move.

Since the signing of the peace agreement in Townsville late last year to end the ethnic war, the Solomon Islands police force has recruited more than 1,100 members of the former ethnic militias as Special Constables.

There have been suggestions that this force could become an army led by the paramilitary.

Alexander Downer said he asked Mr. Sogavare to consider the financial and political risks of such a move.

Mr. Downer warned Mr. Sogavare that a defense force would be a possible future source of instability and a drain on the Solomons' budget.

Meanwhile, Alexander Downer has appealed to Mr. Sogavare to abandon plans to put off scheduled elections.

The Solomon Islands should be going to the polls this year, but Mr. Sogavare has legislation before the Parliament to extend the government’s term for another year.

The prime minister was elected by the Parliament less than a year ago after the instigators of last June's coup forced his predecessor to resign.

He argues that the country cannot afford general elections because of its recent ethnic war.

However, in their telephone discussion, Mr. Downer told Mr. Sogavare that he was worried that the bill to postpone the elections would weaken the international standing of the Solomons and the peace process.

He says regular elections were an internationally recognized source of legitimacy.

He added that Australia would be willing to help if the Solomons needed assistance in conducting the election.

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

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