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Foreign Minister denies Australian Federal Police officers have been spying in Vanuatu.

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DATE: 7 September 2004, ABC radio World Today

TITLE: Vanuatu Government allegation that AFP officers have been spying and direction to leave Vanuatu by 15 September

PRESENTER: Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has rejected the claims of spying. And Mr Downer has been telling Michael Vincent that the Vanuatu government’s decision is unfortunate.

ALEXANDER DOWNER - MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: During the last election campaign in Vanuatu, the now government, who were in Opposition - or many of them were in Opposition at the time - campaigned on the basis that amongst other things, these Federal Police officers were spies and they still believe they were spies. So, if they think they are spies, which, of course, they’re not, then they’re entitled to draw that conclusion.

But these AFP officers are people who’ve been working with the transnational crime unit in the Vanuatu Police Force to deal with problems like narcotics trafficking and money laundering and so on. So, it seems a real shame that, for some political purpose, the Vanuatu government has decided it doesn’t want them any more. But, of course, that’s their prerogative.

REPORTER: If the Australian Federal Police are working with the Vanuatu police, why have they set up their own separate offices?

DOWNER: Well, because they’re from Australia. I mean, they’re Australians, they work out of their own office, that would seem fairly logical.

REPORTER: The Vanuatu Foreign Minister Barak Sope says they’re welcome to stay if they decide to share the offices of the Vanuatu police. Would you accept that?

DOWNER: Well, he hasn’t put that proposition to the best of my knowledge - that hasn’t been drawn to my attention. I think it’s much more a view that he has and the Vanuatu government have that they think the AFP officers are spies, they’re into some sort of conspiracy theory.

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So look, in the end, we want to have a good aid program, as we do and have had in Vanuatu and we do around different parts of the Pacific. But there’s not much point in wasting money on good governance programs and assisting governments, as distinct from the generality of the community, with reform programs if they’re going to get into kicking people out on allegations of spying and the like.

REPORTER: Well, are Australian Federal Police spying on Vanuatans ?

DOWNER: Well, obviously not.

REPORTER: Do you believe that the Australian Federal Police presence there was helping stop trans-national crime?

DOWNER: Sure. The capacity of Vanuatu to deal with narcotics trafficking and money laundering and the like is relatively limited and there’s no doubt that the AFP, which has enormous experience not just in Australia but around the region in dealing with these problems, is able to enhance very much the Vanuatu police force capacity. But if, you know, for some political reason they want to kick out the two Australian Federal Police officers - it’s a sovereign country - they can do that. But it’s also worth making the point that not just Australia, which is a leading aid donor to Vanuatu, but other aid donors too have looked at this decision with some surprise and we’re talking with the Americans and the Europeans and international institutions about this issue in the context of our aid program. So we’ll have to work through this over the next few months.

PRESENTER: Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer speaking to Michael Vincent.