HONIARA RIOT WARRANTS FORMAL INQUIRY

Commentary

By Frank Short

QUEENSLAND, Australia (May 22) - I was shocked and deeply concerned when I read about the arson, looting and displacement of persons in Honiara's China Town.

As a former Commissioner of Police, I always relied on the human intelligence sources available to the Special Branch to pre-plan operational orders in situations that had the potential to spill over into violence.

In the lead-up to the General Election in 1997 the Special Branch intelligence reports were crucial to ensuring the public security during a heavily charged political campaign.

Another classic example occurred at Lawson Tama in December 1998 when rock-throwing youths attacked the players and the referee during the cup tie between the finalist teams.

I ordered the police riot unit to stand-to and not to react by using tear gas. The unit was pelted with rocks and other projectiles but stood firm. I knew that an over-reaction could have provoked large scale violence.

In such circumstances there was always the chance that opportunist criminal elements would move to China Town and begin looting. It was simply a question of the "have" and the "have nots" and, in my view, never racially motivated.

Operational planning always provided for an effective police presence on the approaches to China Town, particularly centered on the main Bailey Bridge approach. Even at the height of the ethnic violence prior to my leaving the Solomons in mid July 1999 no outbreak of violence occurred in China Town and, to the best of my knowledge, there were no attacks on ethnic Chinese.

The Chinese community, in general, were law abiding and co-operated fully with the Royal Solomon Islands Police in aiding community police projects.

Another initiative that I introduced was the Rapid Response Unit to deal quickly and effectively with outbreaks of trouble. The unit was trained in less than lethal tactics and equipped to quell public disturbances with the minimum use of force.

I support the call for a Commission of Enquiry into the causes of the riots and widespread damage.

May 24, 2006

Frank Short is a former Police Commissioner in the Solomon Islands whose tenure, from 1997 to 1999, saw the rise of ethnic conflict between residents of Guadalcanal and Malaita. A founding member of the Australia Solomon Islands Friendship Association, he currently lives in Kuranda, Queensland.

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