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New Zealand Ready to Intervene in Solomons - 2003-06-26


The New Zealand government is ready to commit troops to an Australian plan to restore stability in the troubled Solomon Islands. Law and order has collapsed across much of the archipelago northeast of Australia since the end of an ethnic war three years ago.

Australia is planning its biggest armed intervention in the South Pacific since World War Two. More than 1,500 military personnel and police officers are to be deployed in the Solomon Islands.

The New Zealand government says it will take part. Its foreign minister, Phil Goff, says it will be a dangerous but necessary operation. He says armed gangs aided by corrupt police are undermining the government in the Solomons.

Australia and New Zealand will seek regional approval for the plan at a meeting of the 16-nation South Pacific Forum in Sydney next week. Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Fiji are expected to offer their support. The final decision to deploy an international force will be made only if the Solomon Islands Parliament makes an official request for outside help. A special session in the capital Honiara is scheduled for early July.

The Australians and New Zealanders are worried the troubled Solomons could become a haven for terrorists, money launderers and drug traffickers.

A peace agreement three years ago ended a civil war in the former British colony, but failed to bring stability to a country once known as the Happy Isles. Since then, the nation of a half a million people has descended into lawlessness and corruption.

The first phase of intervention will be to restore order. The longer-term objectives would be to rescue the economy and government institutions.

Professor Stuart Woodman at the Australian Defense Academy warns it will take time to achieve those aims. "What we've got to do is get the balance right between, in a sense, developing the islands as they are themselves and I guess, in a way, the sorts of things we would like to see in terms of very strong and effective central government, enabling that central government is going to be a long-term and expensive proposition," he says.

Disarming militants hiding in remote areas is expected to be a prime objective of the peacekeeping force.

The Red Cross in the Solomons reports up to one thousand people have fled their villages to escape the militants. They have torched homes and reportedly taken hostages to bolster control over the mountainous region.

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