Heavily-armed Australian troops arrived in the Solomon Islands yesterday as the body of the first peacekeeper killed during a mission to restore law and order in the Pacific nation was flown home.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australian policeman Adam Dunning's murder by a sniper in the capital Honiara was most likely the work of disgruntled Solomon Island militia facing murder charges.
"We want to demonstrate to the people of the Solomon Islands that we're not going to buckle in the face of an evil assassination of this kind," Downer told reporters.
The 100 extra soldiers flew from the northern city of Townsville as a memorial service was held in Honiara for the 26-year-old Dunning.
Following the hastily organized service, Dunning's body was flown back to his hometown of Canberra for burial, after he became the first member of an Australian-led peacekeeping force to be killed in the Solomons.
Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison and Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty flew in overnight to see the situation first hand.
New Zealand's 37 peacekeeping soldiers in the regional force were ordered to wear body armor on all patrols after the death of Dunning, who was not wearing a bulletproof vest when he was hit twice in the back.
Downer suggested that after profiting from five years of chaos in the Pacific nation, militia or corrupt ex-officials may be unhappy at the roughly 4,000 arrests since the force arrived last year and pending criminal trials.
"Those two groups of people, people who have been arrested and charged on counts of corruption and those who have been arrested and charged for murders, other acts of violence, supporters of them, some people who support them could be behind this," Downer told national radio.
Downer said only a small number of people would be involved and that they lacked public support from ordinary Solomon Islanders.
Keelty echoed Downer's views, saying rebels or former members of the discredited police force could have been involved.
Asked if the culprits could have been disgruntled former police officers, he replied: "Well it could be that or it could be members of one of the former rebel groups. It is too early to speculate."
Corruption and violence by police allied with criminal gangs, both dominated by the Malaitan ethnic group that forms the major part of the capital's population, was a major factor in the country's decline into violence.
Keelty added there were concrete leads and indications that the weapon was a self-loading rifle typical of those used by rebels, and said there had been another incident in October in which shots were fired at a police vehicle.