British concern over PNG dogs of war

Britain has joined Australia in expressing its concerns to the Papua New Guinea government over its hiring of a London-based mercenary company in its war against secessionists on the tropical island of Bougainville.

This follows a meeting called by Alexander Downer, the Australian foreign minister, involving the high commissioners of Britain, New Zealand and the United States charge d'affaires during his visit last week to Port Moresby, the PNG capital.

In his talks with Sir Julius Chan, PNG's prime minister, Mr Downer expressed Australia's strong opposition over the mercenary deal. He then briefed the British, New Zea-land and American diplomatic representatives, and urged them to make their governments' concerns known to the Port Moresby government.

Mr Downer told parliament in Canberra yesterday that Australia had asked Britain, New Zealand and America "to raise these very same issues" with PNG. Jim Bolger, the New Zealand prime minister, wrote to Sir Julius on Monday expres-sing his concern.

The Australian government has asked Britain to use what influence it can to persuade Sir Julius to sever his government's involvement with Sandline International, a company registered in the Bahamas with offices in King's Road, Chelsea, and Washington DC.

In the wake of a furore that has erupted over disclosures that PNG has turned to Sandline to help its armed forces to "capture or kill" the Bougain- ville rebel leaders, Sir Julius admitted on Tuesday that 40 foreign soldiers had arrived in PNG. He described them as "foreign military advisers" and said that 30 of the men would train PNG soldiers while the other 10 would be "back-room advisers."

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