Solomons unrest feature

In July of 2003, the government of the SOLOMON ISLANDS sent out a call for help in policing their nation, which continued to be wracked with corruption and civil conflict.

PACIFIC-region foreign ministers backed a multinational force, and an Australian-led peacekeeping force was deployed, aiming to restore order and disarm the militant groups.

The arrival of RAMSI (ram-SEE), the Regional Assistance Mission to SOLOMON ISLANDS, took the power base away from the militants.

It comes as little surprise then that the murder of Australian policeman (mr) ADAM DUNNING in HONIARA December is deeply rooted in the ongoing civil conflict.

AUSTRALIA’s Justice Minister, (mr) CHRIS ELLISON, says the murder, committed while on a routine night patrol in the capital, has not detered AUSTRALIA’s commitment to the SOLOMONS.

F256-a      ELLISON     23 secs

The Solomon Islands, in particular, we recognised as a dangerous mission but one which was much needed. We could not stand by and see the situation in the Solomons decay. The request for assistance was made from that country and with other countries in the region, we answered that call. We will continue in that mission.

The 18 months of RAMSI operations have been remarkably violence-free, given the torture and killing during the previous six years.

The SOLOMONS has rarely enjoyed peace and national solidarity between the two, large neighbouring islands of GUADALCANAL (gwa-DULL-canal) and MALAITA (ma-LATE-ah).

The tensions began at the end of World War Two as large numbers of people from MALAITA began moving to GUADALCANAL, with its national capital of HONIARA, for work.

Known for being industrious and ambitious, Malaitans soon became big landowners around HONIARA and dominated the public service, especially the Royal Solomon Islands Police.

In 1998, Guadalcanalese (gwa-DULL-canal-EASE) men, after failing to persuade the government to compensate them for lost land or to take action against the resented Malaitans (ma-LATE-ans), resorted to violence.

Forming militias, they began driving the settlers back to MALAITA.

In response, the rival Malaitan Eagle Force, or M-E-F, was formed… and struck back.

Drawing from members of the police, the M-E-F came to control HONIARA, eventually deposing the Prime Minister, ULUFA’ALU, at gunpoint in 2000.

An Australian-brokered peace agreement was signed in TOWNSVILLE in late-2000, but while a fragile peace held, the country’s institutions were in ruins.

By 2003, economic and social problems worsened to the point that the SOLOMONS prime minister requested military help from AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND as the country threatened to spiral into anarchy.

The vast majority of residents have embraced the RAMSI-imposed peace, but ethnic tensions still remain, says Dr (mr) CLIVE MOORE (more), the head of History at the University of QUEENSLAND.

F256-b      MOORE       27 secs

The government is very thankful in terms of law and order, but really the government has not really tackled the very hard problems, and neither has RAMSI pushed them to do that. And I would say those problems are particularly getting development into the island of Malaita, which is one-third of the population, and also reaching out to the village level, to civil society at the village level.

The first issue for the RAMSI forces, however, was to disarm the M-E-F, and flush-out the corrupt politicians still sitting in government.

With more than 3,700 weapons seized and over 4,000 arrests made, the city streets and markets are bustling again.

Following the death of Mr DUNNING, the Federal Police Commissioner, (mr) MICK KEELTY (kell-TEE), said AUSTRALIA cannot walk away from the SOLOMON ISLANDS misson despite the fatal shooting.

THe RAMSI mission, he says, is likely the first step in a continued rebuilding of the nation’s governance.

F256-c      KEELTY      23 secs

What life was like in Honiara and the Solomon Islands 18 months ago was totally different from today. But there is a small fringe element who are resisting RAMSI and RAMSI’s presence here. That’s why it’s important that we work through this. It’s important that Adam Dunning’s death is not in vain, that we continue our work here because it’s that very reason why we are here to build up the Royal Solomon Islands Police to enable the people here to have good law and order.

Getting the guns and the criminals off the street is one thing, says the University of QUEENSLAND’s Dr MOORE, but leaders must relearn how to lead without the use of violence.

F256-d      MOORE       29 secs

The present government is quite clean compared with what has occured in recent years. Partly though, what has occured is not the fault of governments because they were not in control of the country when the Guadalcanal and Malaita militias really fought it out from 1998 to 2003. The cabinets and the prime ministers had very little control over what was going on and were often held at gunpoint to have concessions and money exploited from them.

Mr DUNNING’s murder reawakened the fact that significant opposition to the RAMSI mission may exist in the SOLOMON ISLANDS.

The SOLOMONS’ Police Commissioner, (mr) BILL MORRELL, says that there are people in the community who are unhappy with RAMSI being there, and do not want the restoration of law and order to continue.

They were making lots of money when they were running the situation, Commissioner MORRELL says, and these people are now losing ground, politically and financially.