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South Pacific Nations Back Australian Plan for Armed Intervention in Solomon Islands - 2003-06-30

South Pacific nations have unanimously backed an Australian plan for armed intervention in the chaotic Solomon Islands. The 16-member Pacific Islands Forum held an emergency session in Sydney to discuss what to do about the breakdown of law and order and the collapse of the economy in the former British colony.

Australia now has the backing it wanted from its neighbors. A two-thousand strong armed peacekeeping force from eight nations, including Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, could be on its way to the Solomon Islands within a matter of weeks.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said regional support for the intervention plan is vital. "Australia's not a neo-colonial power and we're sensitive about regional concerns about our role. But we won't sit back and watch while a country slips inexorably into decay and disorder," he said.

He said the initiative to rehabilitate the islands would include a multimillion dollar aid package. The Australian government's policy advisers have predicted the rescue mission could take up to 10 years and cost $500 million dollars.

But Australia is worried about having a "failing state" nearby and has warned the Solomons could be exploited by "drug dealers, money-launderers and international terrorists" as it slides further into chaos.

Law and order have crumbled and the government is bankrupt. Essential services, such as education, electricity and sanitation, have collapsed in many areas of this South Pacific archipelago 2,500 kilometers northeast of Sydney.

This decline is the result of an ethnic war between indigenous residents of the main island of Guadacanal and migrants from the province of Malaita. They fought over land rights and jobs and fueled by tribal suspicion. The conflict officially ended three years ago but has left a legacy of violence and lawlessness.

Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Laurie Chan says he is delighted with the Forum's decision and will give his people a chance to feel safe. The decision to deploy an international force will be final once the Solomon Islands Parliament makes an official request for outside help. A special sitting is scheduled for early July.