Tuesday, 22 January 2008 5:41 PM

Australia Lifts Visa Restrictions

Australia has lifted its visa restrictions on Solomon Islands members of parliament ahead of Prime Minister Dr. Derek Sikua's visit to mend broken relations between the two countries.

APP reports that Australian foreign minister, Stephen Smith, announced the government was lifting visa restrictions on Solomons MPs travelling to, or through, Australia.

Prime Minister Sikua and his delegation will arrive in Australia tomorrow.

The Howard government imposed the visa restrictions following a decision by former Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, to expel Australia's then high commissioner, Patrick Cole, to the Solomons in September 2006.

Mr. Cole was accused of meddling in local politics by talking to opposition parties.

In a statement, Mr. Smith said he was pleased to lift the visa restriction which, effectively, allows MPs to travel at will to Australia.

He said the lift will see the opportunity for a fresh start to the relationship between the two countries.

Mr. Smith added that the Australian government looks forward to working closely with the new Solomon Islands government under Prime Minister Sikua's leadership.

The removal of visa restrictions has been described as a demonstration of "Australia's commitment to this fresh start and to the strengthening of our relationship with the Solomon Islands".

Prime Minister Sikua's visit to meet Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Canberra is part of the effort by both governments to repair damaged relations between the two countries.

The three nation tour is the official tour abroad for the newly elected Prime Minister Sikua since taking office last month.

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