Restoring order in the Solomon Islands - BBC Report

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Thu Jul 24 04:06:05 MDT 2003

Peacekeepers arrive in Solomons

An Australian-led peacekeeping force has started to arrive in the Solomon
Islands to restore order and disarm ethnic gangs.
The first Hercules C-130 landed at Honiara airport shortly after dawn on
Thursday, with other soldiers landing from the amphibious assault ship, the
HMAS Manoora.

Some 2,225 troops and police from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New
Guinea and Tonga are scheduled to arrive in the coming days. Together they
will represent the region's biggest military deployment since World War II.

But one of the most notorious of the Solomons' rebel leaders, Harold Keke,
is still defiant.

"My aim is independence," he told Australia's SBS television, speaking from
his base in Guadalcanal.

Nick Warner, the Australian head of the intervention force, was greeted by
tribal dancers and hundreds of onlookers, who had waited patiently in heavy
rain to see the first detachments arrive.

Violence is rife, and the country is threatening to spiral into full-scale

Mr Warner said the operation was probably the Solomon Islands' last chance
to recover from the lawlessness that has plagued it in recent years.

"But if it is the last chance, it is a chance that is actually going to
work," he said.

Meanwhile, regional leaders attended a send-off ceremony at Townsville in
Queensland, with Australian Prime Minister John Howard describing the
multinational operation as "unique".

Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza, who left Honiara on a navy patrol boat on
Tuesday amid fears for his safety, returned to the capital shadowed by
Australian security officers.

The assistance that we are about to receive... is something we not only want
but need.

"The events which brought us to this place are not something we are proud
of," Mr Kemakeza said.

"But we recognise that the situation is beyond our control and that we
needed to ask for help."

In recent months, the Solomon Islands have been threatening to spiral into
full-scale anarchy.

While Honiara itself is relatively calm, the countryside is lawless.

Armed gangs and hostage-takers roam, and more than 30 people have already
been killed this year, including an Australian missionary.

The ongoing violence has almost bankrupted the country's 450,000
inhabitants, most of whom live at subsistence level.

Under the mission's rules of engagement, troops can "shoot to kill" if
militias threaten their security.

Australia has shied away from intervening in the affairs of its Pacific
neighbours, but since the Bali bombings there have been concerns that the
Solomons archipelago could become a haven for terrorists, drug dealers and
money launderers.

There is reported to be overwhelming backing for the foreign intervention,
although some islanders are said to fear they will lose power when the force


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