13 Sep 2006

Australia objects to Solomons expulsion order

3:10 pm on 13 September 2006

Australia is refusing to accept the expulsion of its high commissioner Patrick Cole from Solomon Islands.

The Australian prime minister, John Howard, says Mr Cole was representing Australia's interests by expressing his concerns about corruption in the Solomons.

But the Solomon Islands government is standing by its decision to declare Australia's High Commissioner, Patrick Cole, persona non grata and ask for him to be recalled.

It follows allegations that he'd been meddling in internal politics by raising concerns about the government's commission of inquiry into the riots and for speaking to the opposition.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has called the decision outrageous and has sent a senior envoy to Honiara to hold talks over the situation.

The Solomon Islands Planning Minister, Gordon Darcy Lilo, says their government had observed Mr Cole's behaviour and performance since coming into power earlier this year.

"We want a high commissioner that will build strong relations between Solomon Islands and Australia. There is no intention through this exercise to sever the relations between these two countries. It would be absolutely ridiculous for anybody to ever think that any government in Solomon Islands would ever have the intention to sever the relations given the fact that we are very close neighbours that have a very long history."

Solomon Islands Planning Minister, Gordon Darcy Lilo.

The opposition says the prime minister's move to expel the Australian High Commissioner adds another reason to go ahead with their motion of no confidence in the government.

The opposition leader, Fred Fono, says Mr Sogavare seems to be desperate to maintain power and allegations that the High Commissioner had been meddling in local politics isn't true.

Mr Cole had been accused of talking too much to the opposition.

But Mr Fono says he has had only limited contact with Mr Cole.

Since I took office, he had only one time visited my office and we had discussions on a number of broad issues of national interest. He has not been visiting my office, neither me going to his office. So, I totally deny that sort of allegation.

Mr Fono says the motion of no confidence will go ahead when parliament meets in the first week of October.