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By Denys Iorere

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Mar. 10) - Australia has not ruled out the possibility of canceling the deployment of its policemen and public servants to Papua New Guinea if they are not granted immunity from prosecution and other issues.

However, Canberra is confident it will not come to that.

It is confident that Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and his PNG counterpart, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, will be able to resolve the stalemate when they meet in Sydney on Monday.

"Officials are working constructively to find a way forward," Canberra said in a statement released through the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby.

The statement confirmed The National's front-page report yesterday that talks on the deployment of over 200 Australian police and senior public servants have stalled because of disagreement on the question of immunity, jurisdiction and sovereignty.

Port Moresby says the issue of immunity is non-negotiable while Canberra says "it is a fundamental, core issue for the Australian government".

The statement continued: "It is true that at the official level, we have not been able to reach agreement on the issue of immunity/sole jurisdiction for Australian police and officials deployed to Port Moresby under the Enhanced Cooperation Programme (ECP).

"PNG officials have been aware of our position on immunity/sole jurisdiction since early December last year."

Mr Downer and Sir Rabbie are both attending a Global Asia-Pacific roundtable talks in Sydney on Monday and will take the opportunity to try to resolve the matter.

Mr Downer had phoned Sir Rabbie yesterday morning to outline Canberra's position.

The statement from Canberra read: "Australia is not asking for something that we would not seek in other similar international circumstances. The small contingent of the Royal PNG Constabulary personnel that is to be deployed to the Solomons will, for example, benefit from similar immunities.

"Australian personnel will not be above the law. They will be expected to observe PNG laws. Both the PNG and Australian governments will demand the highest standard of conduct from the Australian police and officials.

"But if an Australian deployed under the ECP has a legal case to answer, we want that person tried in Australia (they will face the full force of Australian law).

"We believe, however, that for ECP personnel to be fully effective, it will be crucial that they are protected from unwarranted, vexatious claims."

March 11, 2004

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