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Intervention Raises New Questions for the Solomon Islands

By Liz Martyn, CWS

As the Intervention Force works to restore order to the troubled Solomon Islands, local people are questioning the nature of the intervention and whether it will address the problems facing the nation. Christian World Service national director Jill Hawkey was meeting with CWS partner groups in the Solomons when the soldiers arrived.

Solomons“We heard no resistance from the local people to the intervention,” says Jill. “In fact they welcome it. Local people want to see the removal of weapons and a trustworthy police force and criminal justice system. People told us they just want things to be normal again.”

“However, they are concerned about the intervention. The process has not been fully discussed with ordinary Solomon Islanders. There is real ignorance about the force’s mandate, length of stay, and their underlying purpose.”

Local people are worried about the social and economic impact of such a large force, especially the 100 or more Australians who are expected to take up posts in government institutions and departments, probably at the expense of local unemployed graduates. Will Australian structures take over?

Jill says the inclusion of Fijian and Papua New Guinea troops has been met with indignation. People find it unacceptable to have Fijian soldiers bringing law and order to the Solomons when they have had their own coup. Many are opposed to PNG troops because of their treatment by PNG soldiers during the war in Bougainville.

“The problems go much deeper than the ethnic violence that makes the headlines. The economy has collapsed. Teachers, nurses and others are not being paid, and infrastructure has ceased to exist.

“There is no funding for rural development, schools have few resources, and cash crops such as copra lie abandoned due to the closure of processing plants. Foreign companies are busy trying to extract resources such as logs before any functioning government is re-established.”

Outside of Guadacanal and Malaita people are frustrated with the attention on ethnic conflict. While peace and reconciliation are seen to be very important, people feel that there should be at least equal focus on development.”

Failure of leadership, political corruption and economic collapse are seen as the main problems. There is real concern that the intervention force will not have any effect on this and return life to normal. Grassroots development is needed.

At a time when the New Zealand government is assisting the Solomon Islands to rebuild national sovereignty, Christian World Service and Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, the Catholic agency for justice, peace and development, are calling on New Zealanders to help rebuild communities, the foundation upon which a nation can be built.

To support the Solomon Islands Appeal phone 0800 74 73 72.