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MELBOURNE, Australia (Oct. 11, 2002 – Radio Australia)---A high-level Australian and New Zealand mission was scheduled to complete talks in Vanuatu Friday. The talks have been focused on the impact of recent unrest in the police force there.

The mission, which is being led by one of Australia's top diplomats, was in the Solomon Islands last week to look at that country's continuing lawlessness and economic decline.

There's increasing concern in diplomatic circles that Australia is going to have to confront state failures in Melanesia for the foreseeable future.

When looking at Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, the Australian government sees potential trouble on its doorstep.

"Our region is quite unstable and you could, at some time in the future, have some kind of peace-keeping role to play, and we need to have a capacity and a potential to do that," said Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

"I'm not thinking of anything in particular that is likely to spring up, but everybody is conscious of just how unstable is the region in which we live."

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has unveiled an aid strategy based on tackling long-term instability in Melanesia. "There has been much discussion lately of so-called poor performing states," Downer said. "Some of our Pacific partners and neighbors, mostly in Melanesia, are beset by problems that will continue for the foreseeable future."

And that foreseeable future is one where Australia will find few easy answers. "It's important that the Australian community understands that dealing with state failure will be a difficult and a long-term task. Progress may be a long time coming," Downer said.

Defence Minister Robert Hill says the spiral of violence in Solomon Islands has moved from ethnic conflict to a serious breakdown of law and order.

"Recent developments in the Solomons are depressing," Hill said. "Violence continues, the economy degrades and there's little internal authority. The police are unable or unwilling to arrest the killers of a recently murdered minister, although their identity is well known. There are calls for regional countries and the United Nations to intervene."

Australia sees some worrying parallels when it looks at the Solomon Islands’ neighbor Vanuatu. The high-level mission, a joint Australia-New Zealand effort, has bracketed the two countries looking at the common issues of lawlessness and economic decline.

The recent virtual mutiny by rival elements of the Vanuatu police force carried too many echoes of the police failure and civil war in Solomons two years ago.

The head of the South Pacific division in Australia's Foreign Affairs Department, James Wise, says the mission is reinforcing the warning that Vanuatu should not follow the mistakes of the Solomons.

"There are some similarities between the situations in both countries," Wise said. "Fortunately the situation hasn't become as bad in Vanuatu yet as it is in the Solomon Islands as far as law and order's concerned, also as far as economic performance is concerned.

"But there does need to be additional work put into strengthening the police forces of both countries, to making them more professional, better resourced, better equipped."

Wise said he thinks police in Vanuatu have a better level of management than those in the Solomon Islands. Other factors in Vanuatu have also helped the law-and-order situation there.

"You haven't had the enormous migrations in Vanuatu that you've had in Solomon Islands and I think some of the village chief systems, the chiefly system is stronger in Vanuatu," Wise said. "Some of the community policing arrangements in Vanuatu are stronger than they were in Solomon Islands."

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

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