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Vanuatu gives AFP 24 hours to get out

Date

Ilya Gridneff

THE Vanuatu government says it will arrest all Australian Federal Police officers in Port Vila unless their office in the capital is immediately shut down following a diplomatic row over the arrest in Sydney of a senior aide to the nation's prime minister.

Vanuatu's Foreign Minister, Alfred Carlot, issued a statement yesterday that gave the AFP 24 hours to close its liaison office otherwise officers would face arrest for failing to ''take into account the decision of the Vanuatu government''.

The AFP charged senior public servant Clarence Marae, 51, in Sydney on April 27 while he was travelling with the Prime Minister, Sato Kilman, en route to Israel for a state visit.

The next day Mr Marae was transferred to Brisbane, where he faced the Magistrates Court on charges of conspiring to defraud the Commonwealth. He is expected in court again on Wednesday.

The arrest provoked an angry response from all sides of politics in Port Vila, in particular over the way Australian officials handled the matter. Mr Kilman told the Vanuatu Daily Post yesterday the arrest was "kidnap and breach of diplomatic protocol".

Mr Carlot called on the AFP to explain why the official delegation was made to transit through immigration and customs and why Australian officials in Port Vila did not warn the government of the impending arrest.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said it was ''disappointed and concerned'' at Vanuatu's ''retaliation for the arrest''.

''We regret that it was necessary to make the arrest during Prime Minister Kilman's transit,'' he said. ''All possible measures were taken to ensure it was carried out in a way that was respectful of Prime Minister Kilman's position and the need to protect his dignity.''

Mr Marae is an alleged associate of the Victorian accountant Ian Henke who in March last year was jailed for a multimillion-dollar tax avoidance scheme working through Vanuatu.

It it is not the first time Vanuatu has made threats against the AFP. In 2004, Vanuatu's then foreign minister, Barak Sope, wanted to kick the AFP out over allegations of spying and meddling with domestic politics.

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