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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (August 16, 2001)---Australia has expressed what it calls its "strong conviction" that the Solomon Islands should go ahead with national elections in December.

Radio Australia correspondent Graeme Dobell reports that the Australian government has welcomed a signal that the Solomon Islands will not try to defer the vote for 12 months.

"Australia’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says he’s encouraged by the decision of the Solomon Islands government to withdraw a proposed bill, which would postpone elections for 12 months.

"Mr. Downer says Australia looks forward to the Solomon Islands going to the polls in December, as required by its constitution. He says the vote will greatly contribute to a return to stability and consolidate the peace process.

"The foreign minister says the decision to go ahead is a welcome affirmation of the Sogavare government’s commitment to constitutional democracy.

"Mr. Downer says Australia will provide 1.6 million dollars [US$ 857,600] for the elections because of Australia’s strong conviction that the vote should be held as scheduled.

"Meantime, Honiara has rejected any further compensation claims by former militant groups for ‘hurt feelings.’

"The move came as Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare rejected a six million Australian dollar (US$ 3.216 million) claim from a former militant leader who alleged a musical recording had insulted the people of Guadalcanal.

"The Prime Minister says the government would like to see those who produced the recording face the full force of the law. But he says it will not pay any further damages for alleged insults between the Solomons’ two main ethnic groups.

"Earlier this week, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister was dismissed after allegations the compensation fund for victims of the civil war had been abused.

"Graeme Dobell, Radio Australia, Honiara."

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

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