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Australian prime minister criticizes Solomon Islands for barring police chief

Australian prime minister criticizes Solomon Islands for barring police chief

A decision by the Solomon Islands to bar the return of the country's police chief from his native Australia is unfair and unjustified, Prime Minister John Howard said Thursday as relations between the two nations worsened.
Howard also said he will cut funding for Fijian troops who are maintaining the peace in the Solomons as punishment aimed at Fiji's military coup leaders.
The Solomons announced Tuesday that Police Commissioner Shane Castles, who returned to Australia for Christmas, had been declared an "undesirable immigrant," effectively banning his return.
Solomons Immigration Minister Patteson Oti explained the decision Tuesday, saying Castles' continued presence prejudiced "peace, defense, public safety, public morality, security and good governance."
Australia has already been riled by Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's expulsion of the top Australian diplomat in that country and his refusal to extradite his attorney-general, Australian Julian Moti who is wanted in Australia on child sex charges.
Howard said his government was "very concerned" by the Solomons' decision to oust Castles months before the former Australian Federal Police officer's two-year contract is due to expire in April next year.
"Shane Castles has done an excellent job in the Solomon Islands Police and there is, in Australia's view, no justification for him being declared persona non grata," Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"Any country has the right to do that, but I have the right to say on his behalf and Australia's behalf that it's an unfair and unreasonable decision and not justified by anything he did," he added.
Castles was present in October when police raided Sogavare's office, as police sought evidence relating to the escape of Moti from police custody in Papua New Guinea and his illegal entry into the Solomons.
Sogavare earlier indicated he wanted to remove Castles and previously has threatened to kick him out of the country, accusing him of political bias toward Australia.
Australia is a major provider of aid to the Solomons and plans to spend 223 million Australian dollars (US$168 million; euro132 million) on its troubled neighbor in the current fiscal year.
Australia has led an international military and police force in the Solomons since 2003 when it was invited by the government to bring the nation back from the brink of economic and civil collapse.
Fiji was due to take over the lead role in the so-called Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, or RAMSI, from March, 2007, under a rotation system for the five nations that contribute troops.
But Howard said Australian funding for the Fijian military contribution will be cut because of the military coup in Suva that overthrew Fiji's democratic government earlier this month.
"The military regime in Fiji must understand that there are consequences for what it did," Howard said.
"We'll discuss with other countries such as New Zealand and Papua New Guinea the plugging of any gaps that may arise," he added.


Updated : 2021-05-09 04:49 GMT+08:00