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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Mar 20) – Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare described the acceptance of His Excellency Peter Hooton as Australia’s new High Commissioner to Solomon Islands as a giant leap towards providing an avenue to mend the ongoing rift between Solomon Islands and Australia.

Mr Sogavare made these remarks yesterday when speaking before his Cabinet members and media representatives after formally receiving Mr Hooton’s letters of credentials.

He said yesterday’s ceremony is a milestone for the government and the country.

"It paves the way for more dialogue to end continuous row.

"It is an important step towards providing solutions to the ongoing row between the two countries.

"I’m prepared to move on in the interests of repairing the relationship between our two countries, which I still believe can be achieved provided there is an atmosphere of goodwill and understanding of our sovereign rights.

"I’m happy to accept the high commissioner designate and this is a giant leap towards resolving the issues that have so long been affecting the two countries.

"By having him (Hooton) on ground we can have better dialogue to address issues affecting the nations," the prime minister said.

Mr Hooton said he was happy to present his letter of introduction to the government.

"I come here as a representative of the Australian government and a friend of Solomon Islands.

"I’m looking forward towards working closely with the government and the people of Solomon Islands in the times to come," he said.

During the press conference, PM and Mr Hooton highlighted that some of the issues such as the Julian Moti affair, Australian’s role in RAMSI, Visa ban for ministers to Australia and Solomon Airlines’ non-clearance issue will be discussed at a proper time when the two parties sit down and discuss.

"But this event is very important to have this dialogue going," the prime minister said.

Mr Sogavare accepted Mr Hooton’s letters of credentials despite the Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer’s refusal to apologise for his unprecedented open letter and television broadcasts to the people of Solomon Islands last month.

Mr Hooton replaces Patrick Cole, whom the Solomon Islands government expelled last year for working against the Commission of Inquiry into the April riots.

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