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The shots heard around the Solomons (part 1)

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26 August 2010 08:44

Charles Prestidge-King is a former editor of East Asia Forum. He has been in Honiara during the elections and has contributed to the Sydney Morning Herald.

It's been a busy month for the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, or RAMSI, with the shooting earlier this month of a man by RAMSI and the ongoing general elections and government-forming period.

The shooting in Titinge, on the outskirts of Honiara, raised fresh questions for some about the Mission. Two soldiers from Tonga are believed to have fired the shots that killed the former police officer from Guadalcanal. The killing occurred after police and military were called out to a skirmish. On arrival, they came under rock attack from as many as a hundred men. During the authorities' retreat, shots were fired, killing the man on the scene.

Wild rumours flew around Honiara for a few days. One said that RAMSI was being 'put on notice'. Another said that the Guadalcanal Provincial Government had issued RAMSI with a seven-day eviction notice. One wonders how they might have enforced such an order.

RAMSI prides itself on disarming Solomon Islands. It destroyed more than 4,500 weapons when it first arrived in 2003, ranging from 'home guns', makeshift weapons often using World War II-era ammunition, to high-powered rifles, some purloined from the Honiara police station arsenal, others imported from Bougainville.

Given connections between the police and the militant Malaita Eagle Force during the Tensions, local police officers were disarmed. When preliminary noises were made in 2007 about rearming the police force, RAMSI came out strongly against any such measure.

To now have RAMSI personnel fire upon and kill a Solomon Islander is a terrible irony, and could have some difficult political repercussions.

Image courtesy of RAMSI.

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