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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 07:00 GMT 08:00 UK
Australia rejects bullying claim
Michael Somare, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, in September 2006
Michael Somare warned of an "erosion of respect"
Australia has rejected criticism from delegates at a Pacific Islands summit in Fiji that it is acting like a regional bully.

The accusation comes amid a bitter dispute between Australia and both the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG), over a controversial sex case.

At the opening of the summit, the prime minister of PNG accused Canberra of being heavy-handed and insensitive.

Australian leader John Howard rejected the claims as "almost laughable".

He again called on Pacific countries that receive Australian aid to cut out corruption and improve their governance.

"It's not arrogant to want Australia's money to be spent wisely," he told reporters in Fiji.

Police raid

The prime minister of Papua New Guinea, Michael Somare, used the formal opening of the summit to launch a thinly veiled attack on Australia.

"Particularly unhelpful are heavy-handed approaches that have little regard for social and cultural sensitivities for the local situation," he said.

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"The gradual erosion of respect for sovereignty of nations in our relations should not be allowed to fester," Mr Somare said.

The row stems mainly from the involvement of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea in the case of fugitive Australian lawyer Julian Moti, who is wanted on child abuse charges.

Canberra has asked the Solomon Islands to extradite Mr Moti - a close friend of Mr Sogavare - to face charges in his home country.

The Solomons government, which receives millions of dollars in Australian assistance, has said the extradition request is politically motivated, and has accused Australia of using aid money to further its own national agenda in the South Pacific.

Relations between Australia and Papua New Guinea are also strained, because Mr Moti was able to escape from there to the Solomon Islands.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Australian prime minister arriving at the Pacific Forum



SEE ALSO
Australia presses Pacific nations
23 Oct 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia 'has harmed PNG ties'
16 Oct 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Solomon Islands 'hiding fugitive'
02 Oct 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Solomons' attorney-general held
29 Sep 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Solomons PM criticises Australia
18 Sep 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia issues Solomons threat
13 Sep 06 |  Asia-Pacific

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