NZ marks 10 years in Solomons

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 12:28 24/07/2013

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New Zealand's military forces in the Solomon Islands are withdrawing but a police contribution will remain in place, Prime Minister John Key has told the 10 anniversary celebrations in Honiara of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

Key is with other Pacific leaders whose nations sent forces into the country in 2003 - with the notable exception of Fiji coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama.

The Australian-led RAMSI was gamble to end a brutal civil war which had seen 200 people die in the conflict on Guadalcanal and hundreds raped.

The conflict was between the people of Malaita, an island across Iron Bottom Sound, whose culture was at complete odds with those of Guadalcanal who, by an accident of history ended up hosting the new nation's capital, Honiara.

Key hailed RAMSI for bringing peace.

"This transition is a clear indication of the progress made. New Zealand is proud to have been one of 15 countries working alongside the Solomon Islands Government in a coordinated, Pacific-wide response," he said.

"New Zealand has been a significant contributor to RAMSI. Our police, New Zealand Defence Force, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Inland Revenue and other personnel have made a lasting contribution to Solomon Islands."

Key said the military component was withdrawing.

"A participating police force will stay to aid the Solomon Islands Government in the training and capacity building of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, who will continue to maintain law and order."

To mark the anniversary Key presented a playground to the Solomons.

"This gift appropriately looks towards the future of Solomon Islands - the younger generation who will lead this nation in the years to come."

RAMSI's worth has been questioned by academics and locals, amidst fears that as the soldiers leave the nation of 500,000 will slip back into ethnic conflict.

Bishop Terry Brown who served through the civil war wrote recently for the Australian National University Development Policy Blog that he had supported RAMSI initially as it bought immediate peace.

"Instead RAMSI expanded enormously," he said. Their headquarters is a virtual Australian military base in disguise.

"Armed troops patrolled the streets of Honiara and back roads of Malaita for many years, even when there was no necessity whatsoever."

A huge prison was built while the hospital remains a health hazard.

Ashley Wickham, a policy analyst for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, says RAMSI has failed and there will be "further turbulence in Solomon Islands".

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