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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, May 23) – Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has accused Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer of bullying tactics over the future of the Australian-led regional assistance mission.

Mr. Sogavare also wants a full inquiry into the way Australian police commanders handled the April 18-19 riots in the capital Honiara, saying they were "caught with their pants down" and acted negligently.

Mr. Sogavare discussed the future of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) with Mr. Downer and New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters when they visited the capital Honiara on Friday.[PIR editor’s note: See yesterday’s story]

A key issue was Mr. Sogavare’s flagged plans to replace RAMSI officials in key government departments such as finance and treasury with Solomon Islanders.

On Saturday, Mr. Downer told Solomons radio listeners that RAMSI would leave if it was blocked from doing its full job which included restructuring the civil service to ensure proper services were delivered to ordinary Solomon Islanders.

"There’s been a lot of corruption going on here for a long, long time and it’s been wrecking the country and it’s got to stop," Mr. Downer said. "We offer a comprehensive package to the Solomon Islands and we hope the new Government will continue to accept and want that package."

But Mr. Sogavare said yesterday such tactics were unnecessary and differences could be worked through.

"I think that’s a bit of a bully tactic. At some point in time we need to take over from expatriates in all these posts," he said.

"As long as we can see a clear program of transferring this knowledge and know-how to Solomon Islanders, even if that process will take 10 years, that’s alright.

Sogavare said if RAMSI left, things would return to chaos.

"The whole system would collapse, there would be no law and order, we fully appreciate that."

But he slammed RAMSI police commanders and Solomons Police Commissioner, Australian Shane Castles, over their handling of the riots which broke out after the election by Members of Parliament of Prime Minister Snyder Rini.

"It stinks. They were caught with their pants down. There was no preparation whatsoever. It was total negligence."

May 23, 2006

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