Hostage crisis forces Hague to cut visit short

British Foreign Secretary William Hague will fly out early from Australia on Friday to tackle the hostage crisis in Algeria as reports emerge that foreigners being held by Islamist militants were killed during a rescue attempt.

However, Mr Hague will stay until the end of AUKMIN talks in Perth, where Britain is expected to sign a defence co-operation treaty with Australia to deepen strategic ties. He will then fly out about 5pm (WST).

While the treaty will not dramatically change the practical ways in which the two countries work together, it will bring various arrangements under one agreement and will potentially pave the way for greater technical co-operation on military hardware.

This could mean that future navy frigates designed by Britain could be jointly developed with Australia in an effort to get better value for money in times of constrained defence budgets for both countries.

Mr Hague told ABC's 7.30 program last night that today's talks would aim at ''further increasing the co-operation'' on defence and security.

He will meet in Perth with Australian counterpart, Foreign Minister Bob Carr, along with Defence Minister Stephen Smith and British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

Algerian special forces reportedly raided the foreign-operated gas field overnight, where Islamists had been holding scores of hostages - at least 20 of them foreigners. But an unknown number of hostages, including foreigners, are believed to have been killed.

The ministers will also discuss the ongoing crises in Mali and Syria, as well as how to tackle rogue states North Korea and Iran.

Mr Smith said yesterday that he and Mr Hammond had already had preliminary conversations on ''the extent to which into the future there could be collaboration on future frigate programs''.

''At a time when every comparable nation is seeing fiscal restraint and fiscal difficulty, working together in close collaboration generally on procurement, on capability, on acquisition is a very sensible thing to do.''

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