The Solomons Islands 1998-2003
Thanks to Mike Smith for his help with the New Zealand contribution.
In July 2003, a multinational peacekeeping force landed in the Solomon to help restore law and order.
In 1998, violence broke out between the two groups of ethnic Melanesians, the Isatabu, the indigenous population of the main island, Guadalcanal, and the Malaitans from the neighbouring island of Malaita. In search of work, large numbers of Malaitans came to Guadalcanal and came to dominate the economy, creating resentment in the population.
The fighting began when the rebel Isatabu Freedom Movement started to force Malaitans from the island, forcing about 20,000 people from the island. A rival group, the Malaitan Eagle Force joined up with the country's police and staged a coup in June 2000, forcing the Prime Minister to resign.
In October 2000, the Townsville peace accord was signed; this was brokered by Australia and officially ended hostilities. Unfortunately the deal fell through after the Solomon government was left to implement the agreement without external backing. Canberra refused a plea for assistance from the Solomon Government and the violence never completely stopped, while lawlessness and corruption continued to spread.
One of the Isatabu militia leaders, Harold Keke, refused to recognise the peace deal and was linked to a spate of other murders near his Guadalcanal stronghold as well as the killing of a government minister last year.
In the earlier months of 2003, the Solomon Islands had degenerated into anarchy and lawlessness with armed gangs roaming the countryside. Over 30 people were killed including an Australian missionary in the first six months of 2003. The capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara remained relatively calm. There were fears that the Islands could become a haven for terrorists, money launderers and drug dealers.
Prime Minister Kemakeza requested military aid from Australia and New Zealand in June 2003 as his country threatened to dissolve into anarchy. Foreign ministers from several Pacific countries expressed their support and the Solomon government approved a peacekeeping plan the following month.
Operation Helpem Fren (Operation Help a Friend)
On 24th July 2003, units of the Australian Defence Force led a multinational peacekeeping force to the Solomon where civil war and lawlessness had raged for years. This mission was codenamed Operation Helpem Fren (Operation Help a Friend).
The Solomon Prime Minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza, had left the island on a navy patrol boat the preceding Tuesday amid fears for his safety, and he returned on the Thursday shadowed by Australian security officers.
The peacekeeping force, commanded from the Australian assault ship HMAS Manoora, consisted of some 2,225 troops from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga. HMAS Manoora was deployed immediately after a tour of duty in the recent Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The peacekeeping force, at first, focused on reducing the number of illegal weapons on the islands as well as supporting the police.
On 13th August 2003, the Isatabu Free Movement leader, Harold Keke, surrendered to the peacekeepers after negotiations.
By December 2003, the Australian contribution will be reduced to about 500 peacekeepers including the Australian-led headquarters, an ADF infantry battalion and a composite Pacific Island Countries infantry company. A logistics element, the HMAS Brunei, HMAS Wollongong, a shore-based ADF health and medical support element and an RAAF detachment.
Original Task Force Composition:
Commander: Lieutenant Colonel John Frewen, 2RAR.
Coalition Joint Task Force Headquarters
Australian Battalion Group.
2 Royal Australian Regiment
70 support personnel at the Battalion Headquarters.
Army Engineering Group.
Army Iroquois helicopter detachment with 4 Iroquois helicopters.
Force Support Battalion.
3 Combat Services Support Battalion (CSSB)
2 Health Support Battalion (HSB)
Other specialist elements.
DHC4 Caribou aircraft.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) .
Joint Movement Coordination Centre.
101 Signal Squadron.
RAAF C130 transport aircraft.
HMAS Manoora, amphibious assault Ship.
HMAS Betano, landing craft heavy.
HMAS Wewak and Labuan, landing craft heavy.
HMAS Diamantina, mine hunter.
HMAS Hawkesbury, mine hunter.
HMAS Whyalla, patrol boat.
"Operation Helpen Fren"
Iroquois helicopter detachment with 4 Iroquois helicopters.
An infantry Company.
From October 2003 the NZDF military commitment to the Solomon will be scaled back; the helicopter detachment will depart in January 2004. The Infantry company will be replaced by a platoon, which will probably be part of a multi-national Pacific company that will remain until mid-2004.
In July 2004, the New Zealand Government confirmed that the NZ contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands (RAMSI) would continue until 2006, as well as being involved in the platoon rotation for RAMSI New Zealand will supply one officer to RAMSI headquarters until 31st JUly 2006.