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Last Updated: Monday, 12 February 2007, 07:27 GMT
Solomons demands mission deadline
Australian police and military in the Solomon Islands - 20/4/06
Ramsi peacekeepers have been in the Solomons since 2003
The Solomon Islands government has demanded a time-frame for the withdrawal of Australian-led peacekeeping forces.

Foreign Minister Patteson Oti told Pacific Islands Forum members that they should discuss an exit strategy.

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (Ramsi) began work in 2003, to help restore peace after years of ethnic unrest.

Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific states have contributed troops.

Escalating tensions

"The forum should start a dialogue process with all stakeholders to carefully examine an exit strategy for Ramsi,'' Mr Oti told members of the Pacific Islands Forum on Monday, during a visit to review the deployment.

"I'm not saying that Ramsi should leave tomorrow or soon, no, far from it. But at least we can work towards a time-frame so that Solomon Islanders will not become dependent on Ramsi,'' Mr Oti is quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press.

He also said the mission should maintain its regional character rather than being "Australian-dictated".

Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has also previously argued for a "clear exit strategy" for Ramsi - a move that has angered Australia - which has provided the bulk of the personnel for the mission.

In a sign of escalating tensions between Honiara and Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer wrote a full-page letter published in a Solomons newspaper on Friday, saying Mr Sogavare was trying to destroy Ramsi.

He called on Solomon Islanders to support the mission and reject their government's plans to re-arm the local police force.

"Before Ramsi, Solomon Islands sovereignty had been seized at the point of a gun, by bands of thugs and criminals," Mr Downer said.

The Australian government regards the security force in the Solomon Islands as crucial to its region-wide strategy of stamping out corruption, promoting good democratic governance and preventing nations from becoming failed states.

But the Solomons government deeply resents this approach, and has accused Canberra of arrogance and of acting like a regional bully.

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