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Rudd to visit PNG this week

With_rudd_2 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will make his first vsiit to PNG as prime minister starting Wednesday. The two-day visit will be a further step in restoring relations between the two countries, which have been distant in recent years.

Mr Rudd will be accompanied by parliamentary secretaries Duncan Kerr, who handles Pacific affairs, and Bob McMullan, in charge of development assistance. He will fly first to Port Moresby to meet Sir Michael Somare and other senior ministers.

“Australia has a strong and close relationship with PNG,” Mr Rudd said. “We want to see a strong, growing and stable neighbour to our north.”

A key focus of talks will be the future of the Kokoda Trail, where 600 Australian soldiers died in World War II. Australia wants the site listed on the World Heritage register. But an Australian mining company is seeking the renewal of an exploration licence to explore gold and copper deposits in the area.

Discussions will also be held on a range of bilateral issues including Australian aid, the Defence Cooperation Treaty and the Enhancement Cooperation Program.

Mr Rudd will also visit Goroka to inspect Australian-funded aid projects.

Prior to winning government, Labor pledged to work more co-operatively with its Pacific neighbours. Mr Rudd reaffirmed his commitment to make the relationship more of a partnership. “I will use the visit to underscore Australia's commitment to work in partnership with our friends and neighbours on regional challenges, including economic sustainability, effective development and climate change,” he said.

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