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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, May 17) – It reportedly could take up to a year to re-negotiate the Enhanced Co-operation Program between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

And the $A800 million (K2 billion) five-year aid package would get back on track despite the withdrawal of 160 Australian police, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australian media yesterday.

The AAP officers were expected back in Australia today, a court ruling having removed their immunity from prosecution.

But Mr Downer hopes talks as soon as this week between the two governments would find a way to deal with the legal problems and get the aid package, of which the police deployment is part, back on track.

"I think it will (get back on track), yes. I think it’s more likely than not that it will," Mr Downer told ABC radio. "We’d obviously like it to and that’s a view shared by the PNG Government. This is an aid program for PNG. (The PNG Government is) keen to see it reconstituted but they’re going to have to sit down together and (we) hope to do that during the course of this week or early next week.’’

Mr Downer said renegotiation of the aid package could take up to a year, which he described as the outer extremity.

"It’s not just a question of negotiating a new package with the PNG Government. The question is whether there will be some legislation that will be required which there almost certainly would be," Mr Downer said. "Even the possibility of some kind of a constitutional change . . . that could be very time consuming. We just don’t know at this stage."

Under the assistance program, Australian police aim to improve law and order by sharpening up the run-down Royal PNG Constabulary. Mr Downer said the 46 or so Australian public servants also in PNG under the aid package would not be affected by the legal ruling.

May 18, 2005

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