Solomon Islands PM Sogavare says to lift ban on foreign navy ships soon

The "temporary" ban was because the Pacific nation had seen "a sudden increase" in requests for visits by military vessels. PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON - A snap ban on foreign military vessels docking in Solomon Islands is poised to be lifted, the Pacific nation's leader told parliament on Monday.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said a review of the makeshift ban was "progressing very well. We do not expect the temporary moratorium to last for a long time".

Two weeks ago, US Coast Guard ship Oliver Henry opted to turn away from Honiara, capital of the Solomons, after a lengthy delay to their request to dock.

The HMS Spey, a British naval patrol vessel, also left Solomons waters before getting a late answer to their docking request.

Mr Sogavare's office then confirmed a snap ban on military vessels from "all countries" while naval approval processes were reviewed.

When asked on Monday about the Oliver Henry incident, Mr Sogavare said it had not been refused permission but instead opted to leave "our waters prior to being informed of approval" to dock.

He said the "temporary" ban was because the Pacific nation had seen "a sudden increase" in requests for visits by military vessels.

"In many cases, service requests are made at short notice and there is expectation that all requests will always be approved," Mr Sogavare added.

"Each request needs proper assessment, including of the benefits and risks to Solomon Islands."

He told parliament the review was nearly complete.

Mr Sogavare has deepened his South Pacific nation's ties with China, and faced street protests against his decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

After widespread rioting in Honiara and demands for his ouster last year, his government signed a secretive defence pact with Beijing that - according to a leaked draft - allows him to call in Chinese security forces to quell unrest.

Last month, Mr Sogavare's office accused Western media organisations in the Solomons of "spreading anti-China sentiment".

A statement issued by the office threatened to ban or deport reporters for "disrespectful and demeaning" coverage and said some foreign media were trying to "engineer regime change". AFP

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