A former Solomon Islands prime minister claimed yesterday Australia was planning to take over the troubled Pacific archipelago and warned fellow politicians not to vote in favor of the action.
"It'll be nothing short of re-colonizing this country," former premier Mannasseh Sogavare told parliament during a debate on an invitation for the Australian-led intervention in the country.
The Solomons has suffered four years of civil war that has wrecked the economy and caused, at times and in various parts of the country, a breakdown in law and order.
Australia last month announced it would send in a combined police and military intervention group, supported by New Zealand and possibly Fiji, to restore law and order.
It said the intervention would be on the basis of a Solomon's invitation, which is currently being debated.
The Solomon Island's parliament, which rarely sits as the government lacks the money to pay power bills at the building, was dominated by Sogavare's criticism of the planned intervention.
He became prime minister in the wake of a June 2000 coup that saw prime minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu overthrown. Sogavare then lost office in elections in December 2001 to current Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza.
Sogavare said the parliament was being "deliberately used as a puppet for overseas agendas."
Kemakeza said the country could not deal with the problems it now faced and he urged members to back intervention.
Parliament adjourned without voting on the issue and may continue debate today.
However a senior regional diplomat involved in negotiations said the intervention was a foregone conclusion with military logistic operations to begin on July 24.
"They are going in anyway, they believe they must," the source said.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff also expressed reservations that media here were claiming a growing gap between Canberra and Wellington over the nature of the operation.
Goff told reporters the approach would be cautious.
"We need to be working with people, not over them," he said. "This is not neo-colonial, this is not a deputy sheriff working in the Pacific."
Goff said the endorsement of the Solomons parliament was of critical importance but added that New Zealand had not committed itself to any date for deployment at this point.
He noted foreign ministers of the 16-nation Pacific Forum had given unanimous support to intervention.
"It is, however, important to New Zealand and, I imagine to other forum members, that the way in which assistance is given to the Solomons has, and maintains, the overwhelming support of the local people," Goff said.
"That means any deployment is sensitive to upholding the sovereign rights of the Solomon Islands and does not overwhelm or alienate the local people who, it should be emphasized, have shown support for outside help to restore the rule of law, the economy and the ability of the Solomons government to do its job, including the delivery of social services."