SOLOMONS STILL NEED PEACEKEEPERS, OFFICIAL SAYS

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Most residents fear return to lawlessness if troops withdraw

By Eddie Osifelo HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Dec. 8, 2009) - CHAIRMAN of the Foreign Relation Committee, Peter Boyers believes the situation in Solomon Islands still remain fragile despite the return of law and order.

This came after Patrick O’Connor of Socialist website questioned the report of the Committee on the [satus] of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

[PIR editor’s note: The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), was created in 2003 in response to widespread lawlessness in the Solomon Islands with warlords terrorizing the citizens in the aftermath of a ethnic conflict that erupted early in the decade over an influx of Malaitans to Guadalcanal. A international security contingent of 2,200 police and troops, led by Australia and New Zealand, and with representatives from about six other Pacific nations began arriving on 24 July 2003.]

Mr. Boyers said Mr. O’Connor missed the bulk of the evidence that they gathered, particular from the provinces such as comments made in Auki, Malaita and Tetere and Kuma on Guadalcanal.

"There is no doubt in most Solomon Islander’s minds that if RAMSI leaves before the root causes of the ethnic tension are addressed, frustrated groups will take up arms again and this time, it would be a bigger conflict," he said.

"The Committee is convinced that this is an accurate assessment coming from the very people who will, if forced to, carry out that threat."

In light of the people’s prediction, Mr. Boyers said the ethnic tension should never be taken lightly as a "low level civil conflict" but as the first sign of worse to come if the underlying causes of the inter-ethnic tension and other frustrations in Solomon Islands are not addressed.

Mr. O’Connor said the parliamentary report on the Facilitation International Assistance (IAA) Act insisted that RAMSI’s privileges "are consistent with similar arrangements in both international and domestic law".

The reference was arrangements for so-called peacekeeping forces in African countries, the Balkans, and other areas where UN and foreign forces are typically granted legal immunity while carrying out their work.

However he said the legitimacy of such arrangements is itself highly questionable.

"To compare RAMSI, however, to these operations is absurd.

"The Solomon Islands’ population and police have been disarmed, the low-level civil conflict involving rival Guadalcanal and Malaitan militias has been over for more than six years, and RAMSI’s work has nothing to do with "peacekeeping"," Mr. O’Connor said.

However, Mr. Boyers said while RAMSI success and the positive response of a majority of Solomon Islanders may give off to outsiders the impression that everything is back to normal.

He said it would not take much for certain factions of Solomon Islands communities to revert right back to ethnic tension mentalities if nothing is done by the government.

"Indications of this may be seen in the shooting of a PPF officer in 2006, the brief disturbance caused by the unlawful Malaita Separatist Movement, the April 2006 riots, and, more recently, the small riot during the 2009 Solomon Cup," he said.

Mr. Boyers said people watching from outside who have no real grasp of the anguish and frustrations of Solomon Islanders living in the provinces should not be fooled into thinking that the ethnic tension is well and truly put behind.

"Six years on, the same issues remain and the same option remains attractive to; and the only deterrent to that becoming a reality is the presence of RAMSI," he said.

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