13 Sep 2006

Australia ponders payback for Solomons expulsion

8:09 pm on 13 September 2006

Australia is considering retaliating against Solomon Islands after Canberra's high commisioner was ordered to leave the country.

The Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, says Solomon Islands can ill afford to get off-side with a donor like Australia.

Mr Downer says Australia is looking at changing visa arrangements which allow Solomons politicians to visit Australia when they want.

His warning comes after an Australian envoy met the Solomons prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, but failed to get the expulsion reversed.

Solomon Islands has alleged that the high commissioner meddled in local politics, a charge that Canberra denies.

The Solomon Islands opposition leader, Fred Fono, says it is regrettable that the prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, is expelling the Australian High Commissioner.

He says it's an act of a desperate man attempting to maintain power and there is no good reason to get rid of the High Commissioner.

Mr Fono says declaring the High Commissioner persona non grata is a mistake.

"It's very much regrettable that the prime minister has taken that decision to expel him and ask his recall back to Canberra. I believe since his posting here, Australian development assistance has increased considerably."

The Solomon Islands opposition leader, Fred Fono.