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Australia to Send 200 Policemen to Papua New Guinea - 2003-09-18

Australia plans to send 200 police officers to Papua New Guinea in a big revamp of its aid to its struggling northern neighbor. Relations between the two Pacific countries have been strained over how almost $200 million in assistance is spent each year. Canberra wants to link aid to better government in Port Moresby, especially in combating corruption and inefficiency.

Papua New Guinea is the largest recipient of Australian aid. Canberra has decided it wants more value for its money, and more control over how it is spent. The two countries have been at odds in recent weeks over Australia's demand to have a more active role in Papua New Guinea public service.

Alexander Downer, Australia's Foreign Minister, has held two days of talks with his counterpart in Port Moresby, Rabbie Namaliu, and the Prime Minister Michael Somare. Sources say the two sides exchanged very different views.

Mr. Somare, the veteran leader, has made it his political mission to reform his country's economy. Papua New Guinea has abundant resources, including mines and petroleum. But his mission is not being realized.

A report earlier this year by the Center for Independent Studies, an Australian research institute, warned that Papua New Guinea is heading for political and economic chaos. Law and order in the country of five million people is breaking down.

Foreign Minister Downer says the plan to send 200 Australian police officers to Papua New Guinea does not mean Canberra has lost faith with the authorities in Port Morseby.

"We are not arguing the people there are incompetent or we do not trust them," he said. "What we are arguing is that we can bring with certain technical expertise borne out of the government systems of Australia."

Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia 28 years ago.

Prime Minister Somare is using the occasion to ask his people to stop their dependence on overseas aid. He says financial assistance has brought benefits, but also created a deep sense of complacency.

Australia has been concerned that political instability among its South Pacific neighbors could create climates where terrorists can hide. Since the terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali last October, in which 88 Australians were murdered, the government has adopted a more muscular approach to foreign policy.

One example is the Solomon Islands. Several months ago, Australia sent in troops because law and order had spun out of control in that country. The latest plan to link Australian aid to radical economic and political changes in Papua New Guinea is another example.