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By George Herming

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Feb. 6) – Papua New Guinea Foreign Affairs Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu has described the soon-to-be-built Papua New Guinea Chancery Office in Honiara, Solomon Islands, as Papua New Guinea’s front door to the Solomon Islands.

Addressing guests at a groundbreaking ceremony that formally paves the way for the construction of the chancery, Sir Rabbie said the building signifies the importance Papua New Guinea attaches to Solomon Islands.

"Papua New Guinea considers Solomon Islands as an important partner, a Melanesian brother, and a special neighbor. Papua New Guinea shares a common border with you and has high regard for Solomon Islands as an important player in regional affairs," Sir Rabbie said.

The chancery will act as an effective conduit that will facilitate travel investment, tourism and people to people contact between the two countries.

"The chancery will be what I will regard as Papua New Guinea’s front door to this country and to the Melanesian Spearhead Group member countries with which we share many common interests," Sir Rabbie said.

The groundbreaking ceremony is a new step in the history of bilateral relations between the two countries. Solomon Island and Papua New Guinea established diplomatic relations in 1978.

"I consider this ceremony as symbolizing the beginning of a new era in our bilateral relations," the Papua New Guinea Foreign Affairs Minister said.

The Solomon Islands government has allocated land for the Papua New Guinea Chancery to be built in Honiara under special arrangements made in 1997 by the two countries’ leaders at that time.

Likewise, the Papua New Guinea government has also allocated land in Port Moresby for Solomon Islands to build a permanent chancery office there.

The Papua New Guinea government will fund the construction of the Solomon Islands Chancery in Port Moresby.

A similar arrangement has also been made with the government of Vanuatu.

Sir Rabbie’s counterpart Laurie Chan agreed that the chancery is a major milestone in the bilateral relations between the two countries.

"It is a manifestation of the strength and maturity of our diplomatic ties," Mr. Chan said.

Mr. Chan said the Foreign Affairs Department would work closely with the Papua New Guinea government to undertake this major project this year.

Meanwhile, the governments of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have officially signed a Memorandum of Agreement for a Grant Assistance to Solomon Islands.

Foreign Affairs Minister Laurie Chan and his Papua New Guinea counterpart Sir Rabbie Namaliu signed the documents at the National Parliament on Friday.

The Memorandum of Agreement provides for the agreed manner in which the total sum of the development assistance will be expended by the government of Papua New Guinea in assisting Solomon Islands meet its immediate priorities.

The assistance deal has its roots way back in 1997 when government leaders of the two Melanesian neighbors held discussions on how Papua New Guinea could assist Solomon Islands.

Following the discussions, the then, Bill Skate government made a commitment of 40 million Kina [US$13.7 million] as a development package to Solomon Islands.

Mr. Chan said Solomon Islands had already received assistance from Papua New Guinea under this funding arrangement.

"This included funding for the construction of the Solomon Islands High Commission Chancery Office in Port Moresby and scholarship awards for Solomon Islands students studying in Papua New Guinea institutions," Mr. Chan said.

Mr. Chan said he is certain that the Papua New Guinea assistance will go a long way in assisting Solomon Islands in its development needs.

Sir Rabbie said the agreement would add a new and significant dimension to the relations between the two neighboring countries.

"The commitment will no doubt carry our relations to an unprecedented height," Sir Rabbie said.

Sir Rabbie said the occasion has sent the signal to the rest of the international community that not only the relations between our two countries in intact but for Solomon Islands recovery from the crisis is very successful.

The two Foreign Affairs Ministers also exchanged notes, which legitimizes the way the two countries should conduct neighborly relations.

The treaty guiding relations between Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea were among the first bilateral issues that leaders pursued to establish more than 20 years ago.

Sir Rabbie said the matter has to be shelved due to the Bougainville crisis and more recently the Solomon Islands own crisis.

Sir Rabbie was here in Honiara over the weekend for a brief visit before flying over to Australia.

February 7, 2006

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