28 Aug 2006

Solomons PM urges balance in Australia's regional force

2:12 pm on 28 August 2006

The Solomon Islands prime minister says the Australian army should recruit Pacific Islanders to balance Australia's dominance in regional peacekeeping operations.

Manasseh Sogavare made the call after his Australian counterpart, John Howard, announced plans to boost the size of the Australian army.

Mr Sogavare says Australia wants to see itself as a regional leader, adding that he believes the increase is necessary for Australia's engagements such as the one in Solomon Islands and East Timor.

Mr Sogavare says the Australian engagement should be preventative and he cited the April riots in the Solomons capital Honiara as an instance where Australia could have done more to prevent the looting and burning of Chinatown.

Last Thursday, Mr Howard announced an extra 2,600 personnel for the army, saying Australia faced ongoing and increasing instances of destabilised and failing states in the Pacific region.

His announcement brought a sharp response from the office of the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, which said Mr Howard should not use Pacific Island states to justify increased defence spending.