Kiwi cop talks about his years in the Solomon Islands

Terry van Dillen with his son, Luca, 4, in the Solomon Islands in 2006.

Terry van Dillen with his son, Luca, 4, in the Solomon Islands in 2006.

After 14 years helping bring stability to the Solomon Islands, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has been wound up.

Inspector Terry van Dillen, now based in Lower Hutt as an area prevention manager, spent almost four years in the islands and said RAMSI, which ceased operations in June 30, did a great job in  bringing back peace after deep-seated land disputes caused disquiet.

He still keeps an eye on news coming out of the Solomons and said they still had a long way to go to establish lasting stability, with crime and the lack of infrastructure big problems.

Terry van Dillen  with the Dragons football team.

Terry van Dillen with the Dragons football team.

Van Dillen did three stints in the Solomons, first arriving in 2005 on a six-month tour as part of New Zealand's RAMSI contingent.

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Law and disorder

RAMSI  was deployed in 2003 after racial and political tensions boiled over into widespread rioting and crime. Warring tribal gangs and hostility towards the Chinese population fuelled tensions. 

Destruction after the 2007 earthquake.

Destruction after the 2007 earthquake.

New Zealand police and their international partners encountered a completely different situation to what they were used to. 

"You want to do things the Kiwi way but they have a different mentality and things tend to happen much slower. You've got to be much more patient and flexible. Sometimes you just have to take a big deep breath."

None of his training or years of rural and urban policing experience in New Plymouth, Hawera or Auckland could have prepared him for the Solomons.

"It's a third-world country. Power and other infrastructure can just disappear and things never go as planned."

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He found himself back in the Islands only months later when rioting broke out again and a deployment meant to last weeks turned into months.

The smoke he saw coming from Honiara as he landed was from burning buildings and vehicles in Chinatown, and armed gangs were piled into the back of utes, spreading violence and disorder.

Tensions subsided and after a short time back home, van Dillen returned to the Solomons in 2006 and began more than three years as a police operations advisor.

His wife, Sharyn, and three children joined him and he said his family loved their experience. They made a number of good friends while living in the Solomons and his presence within the community helped build trust between the locals and police. 

"Word gets around quickly. It's about building respect and confidence. Until you get that, you're still a foreigner."

He also built trust with the universal language of football. Van Dillen began by playing in the local top level league and later turned to coaching.

"Soccer is huge over there. You see kids kicking tin cans around on the street [instead of a ball]. It's a straight in. As soon as you started kicking a ball around you were one of them."

 He coached the Solomon Islands beach soccer team at the 2007 world cup in Brazil and later became involved in a team called the Dragons.

The team was comprised of people from all walks of life, different ethnic groups, members of parliament and a former warlord. The mix of people showed how far the country had progressed just in the time he had been there.

Natural disaster response also became part of his job when the 2007 earthquake and tsunami struck resulting in 52 deaths and the destruction of more than a dozen villages.

Van Dillen maintains close personal and professional ties to the islands and hoped the country could continue to progress.

Post RAMSI, New Zealand has committed to continue providing advisors and money to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and while he was now settled in Lower Hutt, van Dillen had not counted out returning to the islands with the New Zealand Police.

 - Hutt News


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