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SYDNEY, Australia (ABC News Online, April 19) - A delegation of New Zealand Members of Parliament who have asked to go to Tonga will not be welcome there according to the Kingdom's Acting Prime Minister, Clive Edwards.

Edward says the committee investigating relations with Tonga is infringing on the Pacific nation's sovereignty and should stay away.

The Tongan government is deeply upset about criticism of its political system from New Zealand and the United States. The most recent U.S. State Department human rights report gave the kingdom a rating of 'poor', in the areas of media freedom and political rights. New Zealand's Foreign Minister has been critical of actions taken against a pro-opposition newspaper.

The New Zealand lawmakers begin hearings next month.

Edwards says if New Zealand decides to reduce overseas aid to the kingdom, Tonga will cope with that.

"We're a poor people, a poor country and we're used to it," he said. But we're not going to be threatened and we're not going to accept the fact that because they provide the aid they have the right to interfere with us. And I find it incredible, I must say so, I find it incredible and unbelievable that a committee has put itself up in this position to say ‘we're investigating the Tongan government’."

Edwards said, "This is the sort of thing I suppose we've been threatened with because we have a monarchal system and we have a constitutional monarchal system and it's not in line with what certain people believe and therefore we are bombarded with the type of reports which are not factual.

"They are suggesting that they are going to come over here and have a meeting around here and fact finding here. We would regard that very seriously interference in our self-government. We would oppose that very strongly."

Member of Parliament Matt Robson, a member of the investigating committee, said he is still hopeful they will be allowed to go to Tonga to speak to local people.

"He's the Acting Prime Minister, he's the Minister of Police, he commands a state of forces. Obviously no parliamentary committee is deliberately going to put themselves in a situation where there is some type of confrontation," Robson said.

"We've made the offer which we think is a sensible one, and also we've made belief through our own diplomats an offer that we would of course meet all the necessary etiquette that goes with a official visit from anybody from any country to another country."

April 20, 2004

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