November 16, 2018 / 10:52 PM / a month ago

RPT-PNG governor raises prospect of 'problems' for Australia-funded navy base

(Repeats story published late on Friday, no changes to text.)

* Australia announced port deal shortly after China emerged as potential developer

* Manus governor says he was not consulted

By Jonathan Barrett

PORT MORESBY, Nov 16 (Reuters) - The governor of Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island said on Friday he had not been consulted on a navy base to be built with Australian help, hinting he could obstruct the port which is seen as an Australian bid to protect its Pacific interests.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Nov. 1 Australia would fund development of the base on Manus Island, shortly after China emerged as a possible developer of the deep-water site.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, has for decades enjoyed largely unrivalled influence in the Pacific until China recently turned its attention to the region.

Manus provincial governor Charlie Benjamin told Reuters the development had to benefit Manus residents but he had not been consulted about the plan.

“I have my people living on the island and we are the ones affected,” Benjamin said.

“The government might have the right but if we decide to put our foot down, there will be problems.”

Communities in sprawling, resources-rich PNG have at times opposed decisions made by the central government.

Benjamin, a member of PNG’s parliament, has previously sparred with the central government over detention centre facilities used on the island as part of Australia’s controversial “offshore detention” policy.

Manus Island is PNG’s smallest province with a population of about 50,000 people.

Neither Australian nor PNG have released details of the agreement.

Australian and PNG government spokesman were not immediately available for comment on Friday.

Morrison has said the agreement to build the base was not a response to China’s growing influence in the region, but was part of a longstanding relationship with PNG.

PNG’s navy is made up largely of patrol boats, mostly donated by Australia, and landing craft. Australia’s navy would make visits to the new base, Morrison said.

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett Editing by Robert Birsel

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