By John Roughan

HONOLULU (Pacific Islands Report, Jan. 6) – Adam Dunning's murder two weeks ago changed the Solomons' scene forever.

Before the Australian policeman’s terrible death, RAMSI [Regional Assistance Misssion Solomon Islands] and the Solomon Island’s typical citizen - the overwhelming majority of its people - rarely thought of the troops as foreigners, as outsiders, but men and women from other countries willing and able to reestablish peace, harmony and trust inside the Solomons once again. For the most part they truly were appreciated as friends helping friends.

Dunning's shocking murder has been totally rejected by the vast majority of this country. They were embarrassed and saddened by the brutality of the act and not the least, the stupidity of it. Although it was an Australian who died in the line of duty, Solomon Islanders were deeply grieved by the act, as if it were one of their own. There was no feeling of vindication, no sense of payback by our people. They were truly and really aghast by the senselessness of the act.

In fact, most people once more welcomed Australia's quick and robust response. The return of Australian troops once again secured the situation. But there has been a sea change in how people now view RAMSI and what they witnessed and experienced on RAMSI's original arrival, on 24 July 2003. With more than 18 months of firsthand experience to draw upon, Solomon citizens are now coming out of their shells, are beginning to make comparisons and are offering alternative ways on how best to handle the delicate situation of finding the murderer of the murdered peace officer but especially how to once more guarantee peace.

Of course Solomon Islanders want the murderers captured, tried and, if found guilty, given life sentences. But the question is how best to capture those responsible. The present strong-arm approach on its own is doomed to failure. People do know where Tatau is and the whereabouts of other suspects.

But gaining people's confidence is rarely accomplished using the business end of an M 14. The country has seen more than enough national suffering born of the gun, of lawlessness, of all the things that scarred it during our Social Unrest years of 1998-2003. They don't want a return to that kind of life, ever.

The key to breaking down the rooting sentiment of "them" and "us," however, is to take people more seriously, to make them real partners. It's called winning hearts and minds. More and bigger guns without a major breakthrough working with community groups, time-tested leaders, women's input, youth involvement and canvassing public figures of weight will bring but slight change.

Community groups with their tested leaders are serious players in bringing the Solomons back to full peace, order and tranquility. RAMSI is best advised to reach out to that type of leadership. Church leaders, for instance, should be high up on any RAMSI list of people who would best sensitize them to local conditions. After all, some of these men and women have been in leadership roles for dozens and dozens of years. Far longer than the three or four months of many of the troopers. Their many years of commitment with the country's small people clearly show who counts in this nation.

These people worry not about a 2006 election but are concerned about what kind of a life their families will live in the near future. They seek not public office but desperately search for a life of peace in its many forms. These people are RAMSI's natural allies. Their only hidden agenda is to insure that the peace they enjoyed only a few short years ago comes flooding back to them and stays permanently.

RAMSI for its part must not only recognize its natural allies but also work closely with them. The information, facts on the ground and vital leads to capture criminals are with the small people whom these leaders are in intimate contact daily.

People here do not easily walk up to a trooper, an overseas policeman or even a government authority figure and spill out what they know. That's not how it works in the Solomons.

Local policeman and women, for instance, are some of RAMSI's best tickets to better, deeper and more nuanced information and facts. Brandishing high powered guns, acting like Rambos and using other heavy-handed approaches wins few friends and assures less information and understanding of the local scene.

The present dangerous situation must be nipped in the bud now. Such a situation helps no one, neither RAMSI nor Solomon Islanders. It's fast becoming a no win situation.

January 6, 2005

Dr. John Roughan, a former Catholic priest, has lived in the Solomon Islands since 1958. He is founder of the Solomon Islands Development Trust and a longtime political advocate and commentator in the Solomons.

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