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By Marc Neil-Jones

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Sept. 4) - The Vanuatu government has demanded that the two Australian Federal Police in Vanuatu attached to the Australian High Commission be removed from Vanuatu by September 15.

A letter dated September 1 by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Barak Sope, was sent to the Australian High Commission confirming the decision.

A separate press statement from Sope stated, "The Government has decided against the relocation of the Australian Federal Police office from the Bank of Hawaii Building to the Australian High Commission Office and that the Government has also decided to close the AFP office, effective from 15 September 2004.

"The decision was made because Vanuatu already has Australian Technical Advisers who are assisting the Vanuatu police under the Australian Defense Cooperation Program.

This decision is to ensure Vanuatu, especially the police and the general public at large, are not confused over the role of the police."

The decision to kick out the AFP has been expected ever since the new government came into power. It remains to be seen how the Australian government will react to the refusal by government to allow the office to relocate to the High Commission and to the demand to remove them from Vanuatu.

The high commission is waiting for an official response from Canberra but indicated that it could seriously affect relations between the two countries and could cause problems within the Pacific Forum, which had agreed to a regional effort to reduce transnational crime.

In addition to the request to transfer the two AFP officers back to Australia, two advisors attached to the State Law office through AusAID, Michael Edwards and Michael Wright, have been removed from their positions with immediate effect and been asked to leave the office.

The two advisors have been verbally asked to leave on verbal instructions from the Prime Minister and Daily Post understands the Australian High Commission will be advised in writing shortly confirming the decision.

Edwards and Wright were brought in as part of the legal strengthening support scheme funded by Australia through AUSAID in the Pacific to ensure Pacific Island nations received expert advice in litigation problems and in Vanuatu's case work on constitutional change.

Wright was responsible for drafting legislation and Edwards was advising the department on litigation. Their contracts were due up at the end of the year.

Prime Minister Vohor has made no secret of his wish to reduce foreign influence and foreign interference in the way Vanuatu is run and with his and Foreign Minister Sope's accusations that Australia has been spying and interfering in domestic politics, the advisors in the State Law office located in the Prime Minister's office and the Australian Federal Police have been the top of the list of the government's targets to be removed.

The State Law office is responsible for advising the government on the legality of actions they want to do and Bills they want to introduce and it handles sensitive information. Sources in the Prime Minister's office advised Daily Post, "Australian aid funded advisors in that office have access to sensitive information in relation to government initiatives and it would be easy for the Australian government to find out about them. In addition the Solicitor General has a masters degree so why does he need an Australian advisor?"

The Austrian High Commissioner Steve Waters advised that they were waiting for a response from Canberra in relation to the removal of advisors through Ausaid in the Legal Strengthening program.

The Vohor government is likely to target other advisors in the months ahead as they have made it clear that they will reduce foreign interference in every sector of the government.

September 8, 2004

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