Australian Federal Police arrive to help quell unrest in Honiara

Australian police have landed in the Solomon Islands amid calls for calm and demands for the prime minister to resign after protests rocked the capital Honiara for a second day in a row, sending fires and smoke billowing into the city skyline.

About 40 Australian Defense Force personnel and a naval vessel are due to join Australian Federal Police officers later in the day in a peacekeeping role as local authorities struggle to control unrest that experts say stems from a complex web of issues.

They say much of the tension stems from longstanding feuds between Malaita, the most populous of the hundreds of Solomon Islands, and Guadalcanal, where the capital and parliament are located.

Australian Federal Police personnel are seen aboard a RAF C-130 Hercules bound for the Solomon Islands.
Australian Federal Police personnel are seen aboard a RAF C-130 Hercules bound for the Solomon Islands. (Alex Ellinghausen/The Sydney Morning Herald)

Local media reported that protesters from Malaita traveled to the capital in a wave of anger over a range of local issues including unfulfilled infrastructure promises.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavari announced the closure on Wednesday after about 1,000 people gathered in the capital, Honiara, to demand his resignation over a host of internal issues.

The government said protesters broke into the National Parliament building and burned the thatched roof of an adjacent building.

Thick smoke billows through properties in the Solomon Islands city as crowds fill the streets.
Thick smoke billows through properties in the Solomon Islands city as crowds fill the streets. (supplied)

Experts say the issues range from concerns about resource distribution, logging and representation to the 2019 shift in diplomatic allegiances from Taiwan to China.

The Washington PostNS She reported that some protesters set fire to a police station and several buildings in Chinatown.

Edvard Heffiding, professor of social anthropology and founding director of the Bergen Pacific Research Group, told 9News.com.au that tensions extended into the early 2000s before Australia led the RAMSI peacekeeping mission to the islands.

People seem to be fleeing through an alley as unrest intensifies in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.
People seem to be fleeing through an alley as unrest intensifies in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. (supplied)

Having faced “this kind of riot about three or four times” while previously living in the Solomon Islands, he said he was not “too pessimistic” about the situation.

He told 9News.com.au: “There are many lines of thought on this, but I think Solomon Islanders are resilient and will kind of rise, if not at least from the ashes, but that will pass.”

“But our hope and everyone’s hope is that the national government will now talk to the rioters,” he added.

Pacific Islands expert Transform Akurao described the unrest as “unexpected but not surprising” and called for reform of the country’s political system.

write on devpolicy . blogDr Akurao said a number of hotspots have been ignored over the past few months, with little contact between the central government and the Malaita government, where Prime Minister Daniel Swedani is very popular.

But the man once noted as Solomon Islands’ next envoy to the United Nations said that even outside of Malaita, frustration is growing with the massive influence of foreign loggers, miners and other businesses.

“The Solomon Islands were drifting toward self-destruction,” he wrote.

“It is one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world. There is significant donor support for its health and education sector.”

Thick smoke billows through properties in the Solomon Islands city as crowds fill the streets.
Thick smoke billows through properties in the Solomon Islands city as crowds fill the streets. (supplied)

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavari called for calm in the capital and rejected calls to resign, saying he would only be impeached from Parliament, local media reported.

Mr Swedani, chief minister of Malaita province, joined calls for the prime minister to step down, saying the leader needs to listen to the protesters’ demands before calling for peace.

“The people are there with their demands and they want a response from the prime minister or the government to their demand,” he said, according to what the newspaper reported. Sun Island.

Support from Australia comes via the 2017 treaty and what Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said was a call for support from Mr. Sugavari.

“We’re there to support them (local law enforcement) and what they’re doing and to provide that support, particularly in terms of critical infrastructure that’s out there,” he said.

“And it was important for us to be very clear with the Pacific Island nations, and in particular with the Prime Minister, about the nature of our engagement.”

On Thursday, he said all Australian High Commission staff had been confined.

Catherine Ebert Gray, former US ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, said Australia’s continued security assistance was “extremely important to the Solomon Islands and the region”.

“The prime minister is a political survivor, yet he may have no choice but to resign if the violence continues and he remains in hiding in the police compound,” she said. 9News.com.au in a letter.

“Australian forces will find it difficult to achieve a long-term peace without keeping pace with changes in national leadership.

“There are many Malay parliamentarians and they should be part of any government. More women should run for office and get the support they need to actively join the government.”

Protesters gather outside Parliament House in Honiara, Solomon Islands, November 24, 2021, in a screenshot obtained by Reuters from a video on social media (CNN).
Protesters gather outside Parliament House in Honiara, Solomon Islands, November 24, 2021, in a screenshot obtained by Reuters from a video on social media (CNN). (Georgina Kekia via Reuters)

Dr Akurao said it was important to address the feeling of “alienation, disempowerment and neglect” that had been “building up for some time”.

“Yesterday’s protests and riots are evidence of dangerous fundamental currents that have been ignored,” he wrote.

“There has to be a reform of the political system, including making the government more inclusive.

“Those who rioted today may not get anything from the government. This must change, or else the Solomon Islands may be on their way to implosion.”

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