Australia to send army, police and diplomats to Solomon Islands amid unrest

By The Associated Press

Canberra: Australia announced on Thursday it was sending police, soldiers and diplomats to the Solomon Islands to help after anti-government protesters defied lockdown orders and took to the streets for a second day in violent protests.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the deployment would include a contingent of 23 federal police officers and more than 50 to provide security at critical infrastructure sites, as well as 43 defense force personnel, a patrol boat and at least five diplomats. .

Morrison said earlier personnel were to leave Thursday night and more on Friday, and the deployment was expected to last a few weeks.

“Our aim here is to provide stability and security,” he said.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogaware announced the lockdown on Wednesday after nearly 1,000 people gathered in the capital Honiara to protest demanding his resignation over domestic issues.

The government said the protesters ransacked the National Parliament building and burnt the thatched roof of a nearby building. They also set a police station and other buildings on fire.

“They were intent on destroying our country and … were slowly building trust among our people,” the government said in a statement.

Morrison said Sogaware had requested assistance from Australia amid the violence under a bilateral security treaty.

“It is not the intention of the Australian Government in any way to interfere in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands. It is for them to resolve,” he said.

“Our presence there does not indicate any position on the internal issues of the Solomon Islands,” Morrison said.

Australia led an international police and military force called the Regional Assistance Mission for the Solomon Islands, which restored peace to the country after bloody ethnic violence from 2003 to 2017.

Sogaware ordered a lockdown in the capital from 7 pm on Wednesday to 7 pm on Friday, saying he witnessed “another sad and unfortunate incident aimed at toppling a democratically elected government.”

“I honestly thought we had passed the darkest days in the history of our country,” he said. “However, today’s events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go.”

Protesters took to the streets again on Thursday, despite the Solomon Islands Police Force’s announcement that they would increase patrols through Honiara amid the lockdown.

Local journalist Gina Kekia posted pictures of a bank, shops and a school in flames on Twitter.

Morrison said he made the decision to send help when it became clear that police were “outnumbered” in Solomons.

Sogaware angered many in 2019, notably leaders of Malaita, the most populous province of the Solomon Islands, when he cut the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan, instead turning his diplomatic allegiance to China. Gave.

Local media reported that many of the protesters were from Malaita, with chief Daniel Suidani Sogaware, whom he accuses of being too close to Beijing.

Suidani said he was not responsible for the violence in Honiara, but told Solomon Star News he agreed with Sogaware’s call for resignation.

“In the last 20 years Mannaseh Sogaware has been in power, the plight of the Solomon Islanders has worsened, as well as foreigners who have made the best of the country’s resources,” Suidani was quoted as saying. “People are not blind to this and don’t want to cheat anymore.”

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