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By Godfrey Olukya 15-1-2012

Australia’s parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Richard Marles has today began his official visit to United Arab Emirates, Seychelles and Africa.

His visit is reportedly meant to cement Australia’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and African countries .

In the past few years Australia has increased on its trade with African states. It has also provided funds to several African states.

In the Seychelles, Mr Marles will attend the 28th Session of the Council of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), representing Australia as the Vice-Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC).

‘Australia supports the IOC’s role in enhancing sustainable development and security among the western Indian Ocean island states. My attendance at the meeting will also allow us to explore the possibility of stronger links between the IOC and IOR-ARC,’ said Mr Marles.

In Africa, Mr Marles will meet African ministers and leaders at the African Union Summit in Ethiopia and engage with senior Government members on bilateral visits to South Africa and Kenya.

Mr Marles’ visit will be the first to Africa since Australia’s election to the United Nations Security Council in October.

African peace and security issues account for around two thirds of the Council’s agenda.

‘I look forward to seeking African views and perspectives on major peace and security challenges currently before the Council, including the situation in Mali, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.’

Australia recognises Africa’s considerable economic potential and growing strategic importance and wants to be a part of Africa’s future.

‘I will underline Australia’s increasing political, diplomatic and commercial engagement in Africa, as well as our expanded development and humanitarian assistance partnership to support Africa’s development.’

Mr Marles will visit humanitarian assistance programs supported by Australia in refugee camps.

‘This visit is an opportunity to see first-hand the way Australia’s humanitarian assistance is making a real difference to people’s lives in Africa,’ Mr Marles said.

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