Wed, Jul 16, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Solomons force to hold shoot-to-kill license

AP , HONIARA, SOLOMON ISLANDS

Refugees from the remote Weathercoast of Guadalcanal, who trekked for a week to escape the terror of renegade warlord Harold Keke, wander in a squalid camp on the outskirts of Honiara in the Solomon Islands yesterday. Australia is expected to lead a 2,000-strong military and police force to restore law and order to the troubled South Pacific island state.

PHOTO: AFP

An Australian-led international force to bring order to strife-torn Solomon Islands would have authority to shoot to kill and enjoy immunity from prosecution, according to a law to go before the Pacific nation's parliament.

The force of 2,000 troops and as many as 400 police from Australia, New Zealand and several neighboring Pacific states is expected to arrive later this month following a plea for help from the Solomon Islands government.

The Solomons have been torn by ethnic violence since 1998, and the government has little control outside of the capital, Honiara.

The draft law says troops and police can use reasonable force against militants, including shooting to kill, to achieve the mission's purpose.

"It's a requirement for the deployment. It provides a legal basis for the visiting personnel to carry out their duties," said Nicole Guihot, a spokeswoman for Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

The bill is slated to go before the Solomons' parliament today and is expected to pass with a comfortable majority.

Lawmakers last week unanimously approved a formal invitation for the intervention, which is meant to control militants.

Police and community leaders say it is supported by most of the troubled archipelago's 480,000 people.

An international force is widely seen as the only way to prevent the nation from plunging into anarchy.

Rival ethnic militia gangs have rampaged in the Solomon Islands since 1998, when long-simmering ethnic tensions erupted into armed conflict between inhabitants of the main island of Guadalcanal and settlers from neighboring islands.

Hundreds have died in the violence and another 20,000 have fled Guadalcanal. A peace deal signed in 2000 failed to rein in the armed gangs.

Under the reconstruction plan, the government must cooperate with efforts to balance the government's books, fix the financial system, end extortion payouts to armed militants and sack surplus public service staff.

Around 100 specialists -- mostly Australian and New Zealand civil servants -- will move into senior roles in the government structure, ranging from the Treasury and central bank to the prison system and the judiciary.

The bill proposes an arms amnesty on small guns to encourage militants to surrender their weapons, many of them stolen from police arsenals.

Breaching the amnesty would incur a fine of 25,000 Solomon Islands dollars (US$5,000) and up to 10 years in prison.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said yesterday his country would provide 105 troops and 35 police for the mission, as well as four helicopters and 65 support staff.

An infantry company would be on standby in New Zealand to reinforce troops in the Solomons if they were needed, he said.

The Solomons are a chain of mountainous islands and coral atolls about 2,500km northeast of Sydney. Until independence in 1978, it was a British protectorate.

Guadalcanal was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting between US and Japanese forces in World War II.

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