Thursday, 10 May 2007 7:21 AM

Australian aid increases as relations strain

The aid budget announced by Mr Downer maintains funding for the Solomon Islands at $224 million, an increase of $4 million from the previous year.

The increase comes despite a recent announcement by the Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that Julian Moti's suspension will be lifted. "Once Julian Moti is cleared by law, there is nothing under the sun that can stop him from being the Attorney General" Sogavare said. "Moti's case is nothing more then political persecution"

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Radio Australia that Australia still has the same problem with the Solomons - the Sogavare Government's refusal to send Mr Moti back. "We expect him to be handed over, not kept in the Solomon Islands to evade the law of this country," he said. "He should return to Australia to face these child sex charges"

Australia reiterated that strained relations with the Solomon Islands can only return to normal with the return to Australia of the fugitive lawyer Julian Moti.

Mr Downer says although he has very little expectations of immediate action, he hopes the issue will be resolved by the Sogavare Government.

"Well the sooner they hand over Julian Moti, the sooner things will return to normal," he said.