17 May 2005

Australian police set to quit Papua New Guinea

8:20 am on 17 May 2005

Australian police who have been fighting crime in Papua New Guinea are set to fly home today.

It follows a PNG court ruling that laws granting the 161 officers immunity from prosecution were unconstitutional.

The legal deadlock has thrown the future of Australia's US$600 million programme in PNG into uncertainty.

The Australian Federal Police say it's uncertain when their officers will be able to return to Papua New Guinea.

The Australian prime minister, John Howard, has indicated he may have some discussion on the issue with his Papua New Guinea counterpart, Sir Michael Somare, in due course.

If talks between Mr Howard and Mr Somare go ahead, they'll be the first since a diplomatic spat began when Mr Somare was asked to remove his shoes for a security search at an Australian airport.

Mr Somare demanded an apology for his treatment but Australia has refused to apologise.