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Leader of Solomon Islands Peacekeeping Force Promises Speedy Return to Order - 2003-07-24

The leader of an international intervention force is promising a speedy return to order in the capital of the Solomon Islands, as troops begin to arrive in the South Pacific nation.

Nick Warner got a warm welcome Thursday as he touched down in the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara.

Mr. Warner is coordinating an Australian-led international peacekeeping force code-named "Operation Helpem Fren," using the pidgin English phrase that means "help a friend."

The Solomons' government requested the international deployment earlier this month, after it admitted it had lost control of the country's security and the islands descended into lawless chaos.

Four days of scheduled troop arrivals began after dawn on Thursday, bringing the first contingent of about 2,000 troops and 300 police from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga.

Mr. Warner says Solomon islanders can expect a visible improvement very soon in the capital's security.

"We will have joint patrols beginning almost immediately," he said. "We will have static guarding of key institutions and buildings of state and we will have close personal protection on the Prime Minister."

Five years of ethnic violence and civil war in the Solomon Islands have allowed bands of militant rebels to carry out crime and killing sprees with impunity.

Rebel militias say their cause is political, but many residents view them as common criminals taking advantage of a security vacuum.

Female pastor Marita Tahu reflected the strong degree of public support for the mission Thursday in a prayer for the troops.

"Thank you God for their sacrificial offerings... we pray for the leaders of the intervention force," she said.

Rebel militia members are being given an amnesty period to turn in their weapons.

The Solomon Islands government has authorized the international troops to use lethal force, and exempted them from local laws.

Australia and New Zealand are ordering their forces to act with caution and respect, to avoid offending Solomons' residents.

Australian leaders say the force will be in place for weeks, and perhaps months.

It is the biggest military deployment to the Solomon Islands since the United States and Japan fought a bloody battle there during World War II.