Australia seeks French troops in Solomons

Australia has approached France to discuss the possibility of French participation in a multinational peacekeeping force in strife-torn Solomon Islands, Australian officials have said on Wednesday.

    Australia gears itself for
    intervening in Solomons

    A spokeswoman for Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, in Sydney, said some preliminary discussions had taken place. But no decision had yet been made, she said.


    Australia was also seeking French help in getting financial contribution from the European Union towards what would be the biggest military deployment in the South Pacific since World War Two.


    French officials in Paris said they were "not reluctant to take some risks" and did not rule out joining the intervention force.


    France has sizeable military and paramilitary forces in its two South Pacific territories -- New Caledonia and French Polynesia.


    No reservations


    Meanwhile, Australia's army chief joined the country’s Prime Minister John Howard, on Wednesday, in proclaiming the country's increasing willingness to send its troops into overseas conflict, wherever they were needed.


    Lieutenant General Peter Leahy hailed a looming engagement in the conflict-ridden Solomon Islands as an example.


    "As we deliberate over a possible intervention in the Solomon Islands, there are many failed and failing states around the world which need our help and support," he told a conference of ex-servicemen in Melbourne.


    He said the Australian military had learnt a lot over the past decade and it was available as a good option for the government to use whenever it considered necessary.


    Australia and New Zealand plan to lead 2,000 police and armed peacekeepers into the South Pacific nation where law and order have collapsed, the government is held hostage by armed gangs and the economy lies in ruins after years of ethnic violence.


    The Solomons -- a former British protectorate of 450,000 people, 1,800 km northeast of Australia -- has slipped deeper into economic mayhem and lawlessness since a

    2000 coup that followed years of fighting between Malaitan and Guadalcanal islanders over land disputes.


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