Solomon Islands unrest: Defence Force, police to deploy for weeks-long mission

Kiwi police officers and soliders are heading to the Solomon Islands after unrest in the capital Honiara.

Defence Minister Peeni Henare said in a statement an “initial NZDF [Defence Force] assessment team” of about 15 personnel would deploy on Thursday, followed by up to 50 Defence and police personnel.

It is understood the police officers will fly out on Saturday.

The decision to deploy comes after the Solomon Islands Government formally requested assistance from New Zealand on Tuesday afternoon.

A building burns in Honiara on Friday. The Solomon Islands capital has seen days of rioting and unrest.

Piringi Charley/AP

A building burns in Honiara on Friday. The Solomon Islands capital has seen days of rioting and unrest.

* Solomon Islands requests support from NZ – troops assembling at Linton
* Three bodies found in burned building as Solomon Islands violence recedes
* New Zealand ‘deeply concerned’ over Solomon Islands riots

In a statement on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed New Zealand’s concern over the situation.

“We are deeply concerned by the recent civil unrest and rioting in Honiara, and following yesterday’s request of the Solomon Islands Government, we have moved quickly to provide urgent assistance to help restore sustained peace and security,” Ardern said.

“Every deployment brings its risks and challenges, but our people have vast experience in the Pacific region and are amongst some of the most highly skilled when it comes to deescalating conflict,”

The request followed days of rioting, violence and unrest in the capital Honiara.

It is understood some personnel from 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, received orders on Tuesday to assemble back at their base in Linton ahead of a possible deployment.

The troops returning to the Linton Military Camp, near Palmerston North, are part of the army’s High Readiness Task Unit, kept on standby in case they are needed urgently.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a statement on Tuesday New Zealand had received a request for support from the Solomon Islands.

“This afternoon New Zealand received a formal request for assistance from Solomon Islands Government, and we are urgently looking at options to respond to this request,” the spokeswoman said.

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A spokeswoman for Defence Public Affairs would not answer questions on orders given on Tuesday, referring requests for comment to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat).

An Mfat spokeswoman said in a statement that Mahuta spoke with her Solomon Islands counterpart, Jeremiah Manele, on Tuesday evening.

“The civil unrest and riots in Honiara are deeply concerning, and the New Zealand High Commission there continues to monitor the situation closely,” the statement said.

“We welcome the actions of Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji in swiftly deploying police and defence personnel.

Australian soldiers stand outside the airport in Honiara on Saturday.

Gary Ramage/AP

Australian soldiers stand outside the airport in Honiara on Saturday.

“The New Zealand High Commission in Honiara is providing SafeTravel advice to New Zealanders in Solomon Islands, including advising them to exercise care and follow the instructions of local authorities.”

AP reported the rioting and looting began on Wednesday following a peaceful protest in Honiara.

The protesters were mainly people from Malatia, the most populous island.

There has been decades of tension between Malaita and Guadalcanal, where Honiara is located, director of the Lowy Institute think-tank’s Pacific Islands programme Jonathan Pryke told AP.

The protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who has been widely criticised by political leaders on Malaita for a decision two years ago to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, favouring mainland China, AP reported.

Downtown Honiara and its Chinatown district were a focus for protesters and looters.

Sogavare’s Government has been critical of the millions of dollars worth of aid from the US which was reportedly pledged directly to Malaita.

He blamed outside influence, a reference to the US and Taiwan, for the unrest.

Australian media reported that late on Friday three bodies were found by police in a burned-out building.

After Friday, the violence reportedly subsided, but tensions remain.

New Zealand has in the past sent police and peacekeepers to the Solomon Islands, following unrest and violence which began more than two decades ago.

More than 1000 NZ Defence Force personnel served in the Solomon Islands from 2003 to 2013, as part of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands.

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