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By Kiery Manassah

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Nov. 28) – The diplomatic warning delivered by Alexander Downer to the Vanuatu government looks likely to go unheeded by Prime Minister Serge Vohor.

Vohor was supposed to have met the two Australian officials sent by Canberra last Friday. But according to his private secretary, Kalvau Moli, Vohor refused to meet the two diplomats, saying he would rather meet Alexander Downer himself.

[Australian Foreign Minister Downer last week threatened to cut annual aid to Vanuatu saying the government of Vohor has reappointed officials charged with serious offences and undermined Vanuatu's public service. He also accused Port Vila of interfering in the judicial system, trying to weaken the law covering financial transactions and moving to create a prime ministerial guard.

According to Reuter’s news service, Australia is Vanuatu's largest aid donor and committed A$31 million (US$24.4 million) for the 12 months to June 30, 2005. Australia said it has raised its concerns with other Vanuatu aid donors, which include Britain, the United States and China.]

The Daily Post was told that Ric Wells, from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Charles Tapp of Ausaid Australia, only met the Director General Jean Sese.

Moli said according to the Prime Minister, Vanuatu will not be "blackmailed" for Australia’s aid assistance—reiterating previous claims by Vohor that much of Australia’s aid assistance—often referred to as "boomerang aid" goes back into the hands of Australians.

According to Mr Moli, the government will not bow to pressure from the Australian government and Vohor will not be told how to run the country.

"We know where Australia’s aid money will be used. (But) from day one, this government has made it clear that it does not want donor countries imposing on us," said the government spokesman. And he said Vohor would reject all moves by anyone trying to impose their ideas on the country.

However,Moli did not rule out the possibility of further dialogue with Australia saying the government wants to engage in a more "proper discussion" with Australia on the two countries’ bilateral relations.

Despite the threat to cut all but the humanitarian element from Australia’s $31 million aid contribution to Vanuatu, the government believes it can do without Australian aid, according to Moli,who hinted on China’s assistance.

The problem though for the government is that lately it has created so much kafuffle in Beijing following the controversial November 3 signing in Taipei that Vohor could find himself in the deep end.

Some observers have suggested that Australia might be interfering in local politics because it knows that Vohor was facing a vote of no confidence next week in Parliament.

When the Vohor government took office in July this year, Canberra took time to send a congratulatory message.

November 30, 2004

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