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New Zealand Joins International Peacekeepers in Solomon Islands

Locals gather outside closed shops in Honiara, Solomon Islands, Dec. 6, 2021.

A New Zealand police contingent deployed to the Solomon Islands has begun patrols following unrest last month. The violence on the streets has eased, but political tensions over the South Pacific archipelago’s relationship with China and Taiwan continue.

New Zealand police officers and soldiers joined other peacekeepers from Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji in an effort to maintain order on the Solomon Islands. They were deployed after a request for international assistance was made by the islands’ government.

The capital, Honiara, is mostly calm after last month’s rioting and looting. Many businesses in the Chinatown district were destroyed, and at least three people died.

The unrest has had various triggers. The protests were led in large part by residents of Malaita province, angered by a perceived lack of accountability and transparency from elected officials. Analysts say the coronavirus pandemic has deepened inequality.

Broader geopolitical influences have also fomented unrest.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s decision to switch diplomatic allegiances from Taiwan to China in 2019 continues to cause tensions. On Monday, Sogavare survived a no-confidence vote by lawmakers in parliament.

Speaking in parliament, Matthew Wale, the opposition leader, accused the prime minister of being unduly influenced by China.

“He is in the service of a foreign power. It is terrible that businesses were looted and destroyed, but it pales, Mr. Speaker, in comparison to the looting happening at the top at the expense of ordinary Solomon Islanders,” Wale said.

In turn, Sogavare claimed his critics were servants to Taiwan.

“The innocent people of Malaita have been lied to by these agents of Taiwan,” Sogavare said.

Violence between residents of Guadalcanal — a prosperous island that is home to the capital Honiara — and migrants from Malaita Island prompted the intervention of an Australian-led force in 2003. The peacekeeping mission lasted until 2017.

The South Pacific nation is home to about 700,000 people, mostly of Melanesian ethnicity.

It is unclear how long the current Australian-led peacekeeping effort will last.