Fourteen years after the government of the Solomon Islands nearly collapsed amid ethnic violence, the country’s police force is about to be rearmed. Regional peacekeepers are scheduled to withdraw next June, which will leave the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force fully responsible for law and order. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.
The police lost all credibility during the violence when their weapons wound up in the hands of rival militias that fought against the government…and against each other. In July, 2003, Australia lead a peacekeeping force called RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) which seized all weapons in a successful campaign to restore the peace. Over the years, RAMSI has shifted more and more authority to the Royal Solomon Islands police, and with six months left to go it’s completed their weapons training and oversaw construction of a state of the art armory. Police Commissioner Frank Prendergast told Radio New Zealand “You know, it’s a different time, Things have changed and I think we are well and truly ready to rearm.” RAMSI’s deputy Special Co-ordinator Alex Cameron noted that the Police will inherit an enviable situation. “Solomon Islands has achieved the phenomenal record as the country with the lowest gun crime rate in the world”, he said.
Earlier this month, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made a brief stop in Honiara to open negotiations with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogovare on a security treaty she described as the first of its kind in the Pacific. “What this means,” she said, “is that, in the event of an emergency, Australia will be there to support Solomon Islands through any difficulty.” Bishop also stopped in Samoa and Vanuatu to shore up Australia’s regional role amid concerns about the forthcoming Trump administration.