16 May 2005

Australian police officers leave Bougainville after court ruling strips them of prosecution immunity

7:29 am on 16 May 2005

Australian police officers have flown out of Bougainville following a court ruling that removes their immunity from prosecution in Papua New Guinea.

The 14 officers have joined around 140 colleagues in Port Moresby who have also been stood down from duties following Friday's Supreme Court decision.

The departure of the 14 from Bougainville comes at a critical time - the officers were to help their Bougainvillean counterparts provide security during the island's first election of an autonomous government.

Voting starts this week.

But now the Australian officers are ready to leave within days after the court ruled their terms of deployment conflicted with the constitutional rights of PNG citizens and officials and were therefore invalid.

PNG's Acting Prime Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, said officials had been meeting over the weekend and his government intended to find a way forward by working with the Australian government to correct issues raised by the court.

The Australian Associated Press says it is unclear how the court ruling will affect around 45 public servants in PNG under the Enhanced cooperation Programme in order to help sharpen up the judicial and prison systems and improve financial governance and border and airport security.