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The shots heard around the Solomons (part 2)

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26 August 2010 13:49

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. Part one here.

Though led and mostly funded by Australia, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) is made up of fifteen Pacific nations, including Tonga, PNG and New Zealand, all of whom contribute military personnel and police to Solomon Islands. It's all part of providing stability to the nation, which suffered nearly five years of ethnic tension and widespread violence between 1998 and 2003, when RAMSI first arrived.

Under the Townsville Treaty of 2003, RAMSI visiting contingents are given immunity from prosecution in Solomon Islands for any actions taken in the course of duty. The same treaty makes specific provisions for waiving this immunity.

Tonga and the Solomon Islands Government have been in close negotiations over the Titinge shooting, with a decision on that immunity clause likely to be handed down in the next day or two. In the meantime, the Tongan military has carried out its own investigation, voicing their concerns that the shots fired were warning shots. We won't know until the Tongan Government gives approval for their soldiers to be questioned.

Initial reports suggested the violence was election-related. That isn't true, although David Day Pacha — the member for South Guadalcanal, and a 'wantok', or relative, of many in the community — was reported to be entertaining some of the rioters at his house earlier that night.

The problem isn't the election. Far from it: the Electoral Commission did an impressive job, especially given the geographical and logistical challenges of Solomon Islands. An Electoral Reform Act that was defeated a few months ago might have improved the election, but things otherwise ran smoothly.

Both RAMSI and the Solomon Islands police were out in huge numbers, anxious to avoid a repeat of the riots that destroyed Honiara's Chinatown in 2006 and led to looting across the capital. Wednesday's Prime Ministerial election took part amidst tight security, with access to Parliament highly restricted.

Photo by Flickr user nznationalparty, used under a Creative Commons license.

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