Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Operation Helpem Fren starts calmly


The Solomon Islands' capital was calm yesterday as an Australian-led intervention force set about restoring law and order, one day after landing in the strife-torn Pacific nation.

Larger than normal crowds thronged Honiara's main streets, while rundown buildings were being cleaned and long-closed shops reopened as Operation Helpem Fren -- pidgin for "help a friend" -- started smoothly.

The Australian head of the regional mission Nick Warner said the arrival of the first wave of troops Thursday, in what is the biggest military operation in the South Pacific since World War II, had had an instant impact on life on the islands.

"From the moment we arrived things really did change," he told Australian broadcaster ABC.

"As of last night [Thursday] we had joint patrols with the Royal Solomon Islands police, we had close personal protection on Prime Minister [Sir Allan] Kemakeza and we have static guarding at key facilities around Honiara."

However Warner stressed restoring law and order across the entire island would be a lengthy process.

"We shouldn't fool ourselves that this is going to be a quick operation, it's not," he said.

The Solomon Islands has suffered a four-year civil war that, despite peace efforts, showed few signs of ending before the arrival of the intervention force, which has been endorsed by the 16-nation Pacific Forum.

In the days leading up to Thursday, militants were still around Honiara, although unarmed. The militants had slipped away by yesterday, however.

Another early sign of the operation's success came with the announcement that New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff will travel to Honiara with Australian counterpart Alexander Downer next week.

"We will be talking with Prime Minister [Allan] Kemakeza about the strengthened assistance package and how we can work with the Solomon Islands government and people to ensure the success of the intervention," Goff said in Wellington.

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