New Zealand (NZ) will send troops and police to assist Australian, Papua New Guinean, and Fijian forces on the ground of the Solomon Islands, where rioting has left three people dead and several buildings burned to the ground.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government was “deeply concerned” by the civil unrest in the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara, and agreed to dispatch its forces after a request from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
“Every deployment brings its risks and challenges, but our people have vast experience in the Pacific region and are amongst some of the most highly skilled when it comes to deescalating conflict,” Ardern said in a statement on Dec. 1.
Peeni Henare said an assessment team would be deployed first with around 15 individuals, followed by a larger group of 50 NZ Defence Force and police personnel on the weekend.
“NZ Defence Force personnel will support the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) in maintaining stability, engaging with communities and providing public reassurance,” he said.
Nanaia Mahuta, NZ foreign affairs minister, said the government would continue to monitor the situation in the Pacific nation.
Clean-up efforts are now underway in Honiara following civil unrest since Nov. 24, which saw protestors engage in looting and burning in the Chinatown district of the city.
Rioters also launched arson attacks on the nation’s parliament and prime minister’s residence.
Police were forced to fire teargas and warning shots to ward off protestors.
However, three charred bodies were later recovered from a store in Chinatown.
The Australian government was the first to deploy police and soldiers to the island after a request for intervention from the Solomon Islands prime minister.
The violence stems from several issues related to long-running dissatisfaction with the Solomon Islands’ leadership with leaders of the province of Guadalcanal, where the capital is located, being critical of the prime minister and his handling of corruption and service delivery.
Further, locals have also been frustrated by the lack of jobs on offer by some Chinese-owned businesses in the region.
However, the issue to have garnered the most headlines is the dispute between the national government, Sogavare’s cabinet, and the leader of the Solomon Islands’ most populous province, Malaita.
In September 2019, the Solomon Islands dropped diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favour of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In June, Suidani even visited Taiwan to receive brain surgery. This was amid ongoing pressure from Sogavare to drop his allegiance to the island.
Australia’s support to maintain order on behalf of Sogavare has been criticised by Grant Newsham, retired U.S. marine officer and former diplomat in the Asia-Pacific region.
He wrote in The Epoch Times that it was ironic that Australia, which is “locked in a nasty economic and political fight with China—is sending troops to support Sogavare who the Chinese reportedly have got in their pocket.”
“And Canberra is supporting him against citizens who want him to step down and Chinese influence eliminated,” he added.
A point that has not been lost on Malaita leaders.
Celsus Talifilu, a government advisor, told Reuters by phone that Australia’s presence gives a “strong moral boost” to Prime Minister Sogavare.
“Malaitans were surprised; we are the last ones standing for democracy in the Solomons. We were thinking Australia would see the stand we were taking,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has maintained that Australia would not “interfere in their democracy.”
“It’s not for us to be interfering in how they resolve those issues. We are just simply there as a good family member to try and provide a stable and safe environment for the issues that are there in the Solomon Islands to be peacefully worked through,” Morrison told reporters on Nov. 28.
Under the Bilateral Security Agreement 2017 signed between Australia and the Solomon Islands, Australian authorities can be called upon to provide safety and security to support the Solomon Islands police force.