Australia is sending reinforcements to the troubled Solomon Islands as violent disturbances continue following the appointment of a new prime minister. Seventeen Australian peacekeepers were injured in the lawlessness and looting that has left parts of the capital Honiara in ruins. Canberra organized a multi-national force that went into the Solomon Islands in July 2003 after years of ethnic fighting.
More than 170 Australian soldiers and police officers are being sent to quell the disturbances in Honiara. This rapid reaction force is expected to touch down in the capital of the Solomon Islands late Wednesday.
They will find a city scarred by mob violence. As many as one thousand people rampaged through the streets, targeting shops in the Chinatown district.
Police were pelted with stones and several peacekeepers from Australia and New Zealand were injured in the riots. Many of their vehicles were also torched.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard believes the spark for the unrest was the appointment of Snyder Rini as the Solomon Islands' prime minister.
"The situation is still quite unsettled," he said. "It does appear to be a reaction to the election outcome. Australia has made a very strong, long-term commitment to the future of the Solomon Islands."
On Tuesday, Mr. Rini was chosen to head a new government after national elections earlier this month. His opponents have accused him of corruption and of being under the control of ethnic Chinese businessmen who hold much of the wealth in the Solomon Islands.
Mr. Rini denies the allegations. He was trapped inside the parliament building for most of Tuesday as the violence continued outside.
The lawlessness in Honiara has taken the authorities by surprise. The security situation across the archipelago had improved since Australia led an international rescue mission to the country almost three years ago.
Its involvement ended an ethnic conflict over land rights and jobs between warring factions from two of the main provinces. Australia was worried that lawless Pacific island states in its backyard could become havens for terrorists, drug dealers and international criminal gangs.
The foreign forces, however, have been unable to soothe the political tensions that have for many years divided this troubled South Pacific nation of a half-a-million people.