Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands
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politics and government of
the Solomon Islands
The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), also known as Operation Helpem Fren and Operation Anode, was created in 2003 in response to a request for international aid by the Governor-General of Solomon Islands. Helpem Fren means "help a friend" in Solomon Islands Pidgin.
Causes for unrest
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"The Honiara Peace Accord that was signed by the warring parties (Guadalcanal and Malaita), the government and the Commonwealth Special Envoy (Major General Sitiveni Rabuka) recognised several root causes of the conflict:
- Land demands – Guadalcanal leaders wanted all alienated land titles, which had been leased to government and to individual developers, to be returned to landowners (including any other land acquired illegally).
- Political demands – Guadalcanal wanted the establishment of a state government in order to have control over: the sale or use of local land; the distribution of wealth derived from local natural resources; and the migration of people in and out of the province.
- Compensation demands – Guadalcanal wanted payment for the lives of its indigenous people, who have been brutally murdered for their lands or for other reasons."
A sizeable international security contingent of 2,200 police and troops, led by Australia (under the Australian Federal Police and Australian Defence Force name "Operation Anode") and New Zealand, and with representatives from about six other Pacific nations began arriving on 24 July 2003.
Nick Warner assumed the role of Special Coordinator as leader of RAMSI, working with the Solomon Islands Government and assisted by a New Zealand Deputy Special Coordinator, Peter Noble, and Fijian Assistant Special Coordinator, Sekove Naqiolevu. Major contributing nations to RAMSI include Australia (which directed the operation), Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga. Pacific countries contribute to RAMSI including Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Personnel from the Pacific countries are predominantly police officers served as part of RAMSI's Participating Police Force (PPF).
Initially, the commander of "Combined Task Force 635" (CTF 635) – the military element of the Mission – was Lieutenant Colonel John Frewen, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR), and the deputy commander Major Vern Bennett, New Zealand Army, from Linton. The Land Component included HQ 2 RAR from Townsville, 200 Australian infantry from 2 RAR, a Fijian rifle company, probably from 3 Fiji Infantry Regiment, Queen Elizabeth Bks, Suva, and a Pacific Islands Company, under an Australian Company commander, with Tongan, PNG, and Australian rifle platoons. Supporting elements included a PNG engineer troop, New Zealand engineer and medical elements, an Australian Combat Service Support Team, with some personnel from Army level troops from Sydney plus logistics personnel from New Zealand, and four Australian Project Nervana Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for surveillance.
In 2004, James Batley took over as Special Coordinator, followed by Tim George in late 2006. In 2005 New Zealander Paul Ash became Deputy Special Coordinator, followed by Dr Jonathan Austin in 2007. Mataiasi Lomaloma succeeded Naqiolevu as Assistant Special Coordinator in late 2005. Military personnel provide security, material and logistical assistance to police forces assisting the Solomon Islands Government in the restoration of law and order. From November 2003, the military component was reduced, as stability gradually returned to the country, and a sizeable civilian contingent, composed of economists, development assistance specialists and budget advisors commenced the reconstruction of the government, economy and finances of the Solomon Islands. The civilian contingent is now made up of around 130 personnel from many pacific countries, the most sizeable being Australia and New Zealand. Early successes included the stabilisation of government finances and normalisation of debt, as well as a number of economic reforms. Civilians in RAMSI are now focussing on capacity building of Solomon Islanders to take over the roles. Difficulties include the lack of available skilled Solomon Islanders.
Former Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was outspoken in his criticism of RAMSI, which he accused of being dominated by Australia and of undermining the Solomons' sovereignty. By contrast, his successor Prime Minister Derek Sikua has stated he supports RAMSI, and has criticised his predecessor, saying in January 2008: "I think for some time in the last 18 months, the Solomon Islands government was preoccupied with finding fault in RAMSI." Sikua has stated:
- "[We will] provide leadership that will work closely with RAMSI to achieve clearly stated and agreed objectives for the long-term benefit of Solomon Islands. [...] RAMSI is here on our invitation. [...] [The mission] is important to Solomon Islands as it provides security, development of our police service, and the strengthening of the capacity of government institutions."
Sikua has also asked RAMSI to assist the Solomons' rural areas "in the health sector and in the education sector as well as in infrastructure and other sectors to do with income generation and economic activities".
A documentary film about the tension times and the RAMSI intervention was filmed in 2013, directed by Michael Bainbridge and Mark Power.
In the early hours of 22 December 2004, Australian Protective Service Officer Adam Dunning was ambushed and killed while on a routine vehicle patrol with another officer in Honiara. Within 24 hours, a rifle company group from the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment was flown into the Solomon Islands.
In early January 2005, a joint operation between the Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) and Participating Police Force (PPF) resulted in the arrest of James Tatau. Tatau was charged with Dunning's murder, the attempted murder of his colleague, and an earlier shooting incident on a Participating Police Force (PPF) vehicle, in which a bullet narrowly missed two PPF officers. After the arrest, the military presence within RAMSI was again reduced. As of 2005, the five troop-contributing nations (Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga) together provided approximately 40 personnel to support the PPF. There are currently around 200 troops stationed in Solomon Islands, who regularly conduct patrols in the capital, Honiara and throughout the provinces.
Solomon Islanders James Tatau and John Hen Ome were acquitted after standing trial for the killing of Adam Dunning in May 2007.
An Australian soldier, Private Jamie Clark, died in 2005 after falling down a sinkhole while serving as a peacekeeper in the Solomon Islands.
Riots following 2006 general election
On 18 April 2006 Snyder Rini was elected Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands in a general election. This sparked rioting in Honiara amidst allegations that the election was fixed with the aid of money from Chinese businessmen. Parts of Honiara were razed and looted, with Chinese-owned property particularly targeted. With up to 90% of their shops burnt down in Chinatown, most Chinese have evacuated the country in fear of their personal safety. Snyder Rini resigned on the floor of Parliament on 26 April after just eight days as Prime Minister and as MPs were due to vote on a motion of no confidence against him.
In response, from 20 April 2006, RAMSI forces were rapidly bolstered by a further 220 Australian troops. New Zealand sent a further rifle company and 30 police to increase its RAMSI contribution to around 160 troops and 67 police.
The PPF currently comprises police officers from 15 Pacific nations: Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Republic of Marshall Islands, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Kiribati and Tuvalu.
2013 military withdrawal
On 1 July 2013, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Papua New Guinean forces began a "phased redeployment" from the Solomon Islands after it was assessed that the security situation in the country had stabilised. The last Australian infantry returned to Australia on 1 August 2013. All Australian personnel and equipment are scheduled to be withdrawn by September 2013. After arriving on 24 July 2003, a total of 7,270 Australian personnel deployed during that country's support to RAMSI. Of these, 2,122 were Reserve personnel.
In the year of 2011–12, $43.5 million was spent on the Australian contribution to the RAMSI. Jenny Hayward-Jones at the Lowey Institute has estimated that Australian government spending on RAMSI is calculated at $2.6 billion in real terms to date.
- Dalcy Tovosia Paina. Peacemaking in Solomon Islands: The experience of the Guadalcanal Women for Peace movement. School of Education, Solomon Islands College of Higher Education.
- "Australian Government, Department of Defence". Defence.gov.au. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- Colin Robinson & Steve Wyatt, 'Operation Helpem Fren,' Version 2.3, Orbat.com, 9 August 2003
- "RAMSI undermining Solomons' sovereignty: Sogavare", Campbell Cooney, ABC News, 16 October 2007
- "Building bridges in the Solomons", Anna Jones, BBC, 4 January 2008
- "Australia's Dominance Drives Wedge Into Pacific", Selwyn Manning, Scoop.co.nz, 24 October 2006
- "Sikua: Nation keen to retain RAMSI", Fiji Times, 29 January 2008
- "New Solomons PM pledges RAMSI support", Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 2008
- "Sikua Government Values Relations with Regional Partners", Joanna Sireheti, Solomon Times, 20 December 2007
- "Solomon Islands PM calls for RAMSI expansion", ABC Radio Australia, 29 January 2008
- "Solomon Star News, Solomon Islands leading newspaper". Solomonstarnews.com. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- "War Memorial urged to honour fallen peacekeepers - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Abc.net.au. 2012-08-18. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
- "Zero tolerance for violence in Solomons", 25 April 2006, New Zealand Press Association
- Media Release – Solomon Islands – New Zealand Defence Force Assistance, 20 April 2006, New Zealand Defence Force
- Media Release – Further Deployment to the Solomon Islands, 21 April 2006, New Zealand Defence Force
- "Final Solomon Islands infantry rotation returns home". Australian Defence Department News. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
- "Australia-led Combined Task Forces Concludes Role With RAMSI". Department of Defence Media Release. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
- Watt, David. "Budget 2011–12: Australian Defence Force (ADF) operations". Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
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