Fri, Oct 03, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Solomon Islands minister says reign of warlords is over


The biggest multinational troop deployment in the South Pacific since World War II has broken the reign of gangsters and warlords in the Solomon Islands and has given the country a chance to begin cleaning up rampant corruption, its foreign minister said.

Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Laurie Chan told the General Assembly on Wednesday that since the regional mission was launched in July, "security in terms of law and order has been re-established and the government's finances are beginning to stabilize."

In a General Assembly session dominated by denunciations of the US-led invasion of Iraq without UN approval, the Pacific coalition deployment in the Solomons stood out as a model of regional cooperation at the invitation of the government of that crime-ridden island.

The Australian government, which faced opposition at home for its participation in the US-led war in Iraq, also was in charge of the move to crush militias and warlords in the Solomons.

The move was a change in regional policy for Australia, which for decades had stringently avoided any overt military action in its region, fearing it would be labeled a neocolonial power.

But Australian Prime Minister John Howard's government felt the Solomons situation posed too great a danger, and he acted at the invitation of the Solomons' government and with the blessing of all governments in the region.

A 2,300-member Australian-led intervention force was sent to the troubled nation after the Solomons' government pleaded for help to end ethnic violence and ease its economic collapse following a coup in 2000. New Zealand and some other Pacific islands also have contributed police, troops and civilian experts to the force.

Australia and New Zealand have voiced fears that impoverished Pacific nations like the Solomons could become havens for terrorists and international criminals.

Several warlords and militant leaders, notably Harold Keke who terrorized the Weathercoast region south of Guadalcanal, surrendered in August to the regional peace force.

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