Solomons PM's absence from memorial service was a 'missed opportunity,' U.S. official says

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

SYDNEY, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare did not attend a weekend dawn service for a key World War Two battle organised by the United States, with local media reporting it as a "snub".

The Solomon Star News said Sogavare was due to give a speech on Sunday at the memorial service attended by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and ministers and officials from Japan, Australia and New Zealand, but he did not appear.

Sherman told a news conference Sogavare was on the printed programme for the ceremony, which marked the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, and when she met him later in the day she told him she was sorry he didn't attend.

"The real sorrow here is that I think he missed a real opportunity to commemorate how strong these bonds were 80 years ago that allowed for freedom here in Solomon Islands," she told reporters, according to a transcript released on Monday.

The U.S. ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, who also attended a series of ceremonies, paid tribute to two Solomon Islanders who had saved the life of her father, John F. Kennedy, who later became U.S. president.

Sherman said her meeting with Sogavare was wide ranging and "very bold", and she had raised U.S. concerns over his government's security pact with China.

Honiara and Beijing have denied the pact will allow a military base. read more

In a television interview on Monday, Sherman said Sogavare had repeated his assurances there would be no Chinese base, but the U.S. and other Pacific nations would "all watch very carefully to see what happens here".

"It is the Pacific Island Forum, other countries who care very much that there not be a Chinese military base because that would create a threat potentially to all of the Pacific islands," she told ABC's 7:30 Report program.

Sogavare "will have to answer to his own citizens about why he made the choice that he did" to not attend the Guadalcanal ceremony, she added.

Sherman praised the role of Solomon Islanders in working with the United States during World War Two.

Sogavare's office did not respond to a Reuters request for comment, but a statement to local media denied reports he had snubbed the U.S. by not attending the memorials.

Solomon Islands ministers had represented the government at the World War Two ceremonies, the statement said.

A Japanese Navy sailor was stabbed at another Guadalcanal memorial service on Monday at Bloody Ridge, a spokesman at the Japanese Embassy in the Solomon Islands told Reuters.

The victim was treated at the scene by U.S. military medics and needed two stitches, the spokesman added.

Solomon Islands police said in a statement a local man was arrested after attacking the Japanese delegation's media officer with a pair of scissors.

Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Lucy Craymer in Wellington; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mike Harrison

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