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Vanuatu Bans Visits by Australian Warships, Planes

May 12, 1987|From Reuters

PORT VILA, Vanuatu — The government of Vanuatu on Monday announced a ban on visits by Australian warships and aircraft as relations between the two countries deteriorated over the South Pacific island nation's growing links with Libya.

Premier Walter Lini, in a statement, said the move reflects "extreme displeasure" over Australian intelligence activities against his nation, formerly the Anglo-French territory of New Hebrides.

Lini dismissed Australian concern over the Libyan connection as a "non-issue" but charged that Australian intelligence has been interfering in the domestic affairs of Vanuatu, a nation of more than 80 islands about the size of Connecticut.

Vanuatu established diplomatic relations with Libya last year, claiming that the act was part of its nonaligned policy.

Tripoli has yet to open a mission here, but Australian officials have expressed concern that Libya may use Vanuatu as a base to support dissident groups in the region, particularly in the French territory of New Caledonia.

Australian naval ships and military aircraft have made regular visits to Vanuatu as part of their South Pacific patrol duties. The Australian flagship Stalwart, accompanied by two patrol boats, was due to visit Port Vila next week.

Officials here, however, said the defense cooperation agreement between the two nations is not likely to be affected immediately.

About a dozen Australian servicemen are in Vanuatu as advisers to Vanuatu's paramilitary forces and about 30 Vanuatu servicemen are in Australia undergoing military training.

Lini welcomed the planned visit of Australian Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs David Sadlier later this week and said the discussions will include the Libyan question and Australian intelligence activities.

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