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Medical students off to Cuba for training soon

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Nov. 30, 2009) – Twenty-five Solomon Islands students will fly to Cuba next week to train as doctors, accompanied by two health officials, thanks to about SB$107,000 [US$13,000] paid by the Iran government for their travel costs.

The money was transmitted earlier this month by the Iranian embassy in Canberra via the Australian and New Zealand Bank branch in Honiara, the Solomons capital.

But ANZ, which acts as the Solomon Islands government's bank, sent it back, said a bank spokesman, "as part of ANZ's economic and trade sanctions policy", which prevents remittances or transactions involving Iran, Sudan, Syria, North Korea, Burma or Cuba. The standoff was resolved by the Iranian embassy giving the Solomons high commission in Canberra the aid directly, enabling the latter to use it to pay in Australia for the students' travel.

High commissioner Victor Ngele said last week "the Australian government is assisting us to resolve this".

Fifty other medical students from the Solomon Islands have already been studying in Cuba for almost a year, and several Cuban doctors are now working in the Solomons.

Stephen Smith has just spent two days in Cuba, on the first official visit there by an Australian foreign minister for 15 years.

Mr. Smith and his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Parrilla, signed a memorandum of understanding to develop "friendship and co-operation".

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