Sunday, 5 August 2007 8:02 AM

Australian High Commissioner Clarifies Media Reports

The High Commissioner of Australia, Peter Hooton, stated that an article, published in one of the daily papers in Solomon Islands contained a number of inaccurate statements.

The article reported that the Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare claimed that Australia has refused to accept a Ministerial meeting with Solomon Islands. Peter Hooton, in a press statement, made it clear that this is incorrect.

Mr Hooton stated that on the 2nd of April, 2007, when writing to Foreign Minister Patteson Oti to convey Australia's condolences to the victims of the tragic tsunami in Solomon Islands, Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, extended an invitation to Mr Oti and other Solomon Islands Ministers.

Mr Hooton said the invitation was purposely to conduct bilateral talks with the Australian Government in Canberra. Mr Hooton said that Mr Downer is still awaiting a response to that invitation from the Solomon Islands government.

Mr Hooton said that besides that, the Australian government had agreed to a formal request from the Solomon Islands Government to facilitate two separate visits to Australia by the then Acting Attorney-General, Nuatali Tongarutu. This was to discuss Mr Julian Moti's extradition with relevant Australian legal authorities.

Australia's Minister for Justice and Customs, David Johnston, and the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions agreed to meet Ms Tongarutu. Unfortunately, Ms Tongarutu cancelled the first visit two days before it was scheduled to take place.

A second visit and meeting was then rescheduled at Ms Tongarutu's request. The day before the meeting was due to take place, Ms Tongarutu advised the Australian High Commission in Honiara that she had been instructed by Prime Minister Sogavare not to travel to Australia as planned.

Mr Sogavare continues to claim that his government is keen to cooperate with Australia to discuss the issue and called for Australian authorities to hold talks to discuss the Moti case. But Mr Hooton says after such talks were organised, Mr Sogavare cancelled Ms Tongarutu's scheduled visit.