17 Nov 2006

PNG govt appoints new foreign minister in an effort to mend relations with Australia

11:59 am on 17 November 2006

The government of Papua New Guinea has appointed a new foreign minister in an effort to mend relations with Australia.

The PNG prime minister, Sir Michael Somare, has handed his foreign affairs portfolio to the trade and industry minister, Paul Teinsten, saying the minister's first task is to re-establish diplomatic dialogue with Australia.

The relationship between the two countries soured when Australian lawyer Julian Moti escaped to the Solomon Islands on board a PNG military plane last month.

On Wednesday, the Port Moresby government suspended its defence force commander, Peter Ilau, the chief secretary to the government, Joshua Kalinoe, and the acting police commissioner, Tom Kulunga, over the issue.

Sir Michael says the suspensions are a result of the government's investigations into the escape, and not because of pressure from the Australian government.

Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, has welcomed what he describes as the dramatic action against the bureaucrats.