IRAN TO PAY TRAVEL EXPENSES OF SOLOMONS STUDENTS

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Solomons students to study medicine in Cuba

By Alfred Sasako

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Nov. 6, 2008) - The Solomon Islands government is believed to have accepted an offer by Iran to meet the travel costs for Solomon Islands medical students studying in Cuba. Iran made the offer in talks in New York last September, sources said.

The funding is the latest to emerge since the revelation last week that the Coalition for National Unity and Rural Advancement (CNURA) government was engaged in secret bilateral talks with the Tehran government.

Foreign Minister William Haomae, and his Permanent Secretary, Barnabas Anga, were in Tehran last week.

Details as to how much money was involved are sketchy.

The sources said the Government has accepted the offer and the money had been paid via the Solomon Islands Mission [Embassy] at the United Nations in New York.

The Iranians, the sources said, would also provide computers for our medical students in Cuban medical schools.

Iran’s offer to meet airfares and to provide computers were agreed in talks in New York last September when Prime Minister Dr. Derek Sikua was attending the United Nations General Assembly [UNGA].

Many of the students who were accepted for training in Cuba could not travel this year because of shortage in funding. With the new funding source, more students will be on their way to Havana.

Training Solomon Islands medical students in Cuba was first initiated by Manasseh Sogavare’s government.

Under the arrangement, the Solomon Islands Government was to pay students’ travel costs to and from Cuba while the Havana government meets lodging and other internal costs. As part of the scheme, Cuban medical doctors would be sent to work in Solomon Islands hospitals. At least two are already working at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara.

The revelation about bilateral talks with Iran has drawn sharp criticism from Opposition leader, Mr. Sogavare, saying Iran is a nation known for sponsoring terrorism and that forming an ally with Tehran goes against the values of Solomon Islands.

"Terrorism in general is something that is condemned by the United Nations, and no country in their right mind would enter into an alliance or diplomatic relations with a country that sponsors that kind of activity, that causes suffering to millions of people," he said.

But the Solomon Islands government has defended its decision for the talks with Tehran saying it would pave the way for signing a bilateral cooperation agreement with Iran.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement describing Sogavare’s comments as "regrettable," saying that Solomon Islands had not yet established diplomatic relations with Iran.

The statement said such an agreement would make way for the two countries to explore specific cooperative arrangements, including the possibility of formalizing diplomatic relations.

Iran is a member of the UN and has diplomatic relations with 102 countries, including Australia and New Zealand.

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