2 Apr 2004

Conflicting reports about troop withdrawal from Solomon Islands

3:12 pm on 2 April 2004

The foreign troops sent to Solomon Islands in July are reported to be withdrawing next month.

A 17-hundred strong force of mainly Australian and New Zealand soldiers was deployed in July to protect the Regional Assistance Mission which is charged with restoring law and order and improving governance.

The Solomon Islands prime minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza, has told some members of his party that the troops will leave in May but that the exact date for the withdrawal is yet to be decided.

Some of the soldiers are expected to be stationed in Queensland for a possible redeployment if the security situation deteriorates.

The move will not affect the armed police officers drawn from Pacific Islands Forum countries and the civilian technical and professional personnel.

The head of the Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands, Nick Warner, has dismissed reports of an imminent withdrawal.

Mr Warner says contributing countries have not been given a threat assessment recently.

"No decision has been taken by any contributing government as far as I'm concerned or as far as I've heard."

Nick Warner

A spokesperson for the New Zealand defence minister says the New Zealand cabinet has made no decision.

Last month, Sir Allan was in Australia and New Zealand to thank the two governments for their contribution.

He is on his way to New Zealand for Tuesday's Forum mini-summit.