April 20, 2006

Solomon Islands calm as more troops sent in

By Michelle Nichols

HONIARA (Reuters) - Calm returned to the Solomon Islands
capital Honiara on Friday as Australia announced 110 more
troops would be sent to the troubled South Pacific nation to
prevent more violence after the election of a new prime

Australian troops and police, sent to restore law and order
after two days of rioting, had feared more protests after Prime
Minister Synder Rini was secretly sworn in on Thursday.

Hundreds of Chinese targeted in the violence and forced
from their homes, many which burned to the ground, were being
sheltered near Honiara's police headquarters.

Beijing has requested that the Solomons protect its
nationals and has arranged shelter for about 500 Chinese
nationals. It has asked Chinese tourists not to visit the
troubled island nation.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard on Friday
announced 110 more troops would be sent to the Solomons as a
show of force to prevent any more riots, adding he was
determined to prevent failed states in the region from becoming
a haven for terrorism.

"The situation is still tense and there's still the
potential for further trouble," Howard told Australian radio.

"It is far more desirable to deter troublemakers in a
situation like this than to fight a pitch battle. If they think
there is overwhelming force, they won't try trouble in the
first place."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will visit the
Solomons on Saturday and will hold talks with Rini.

Rini is expected to announce his new cabinet on Friday,
with parliament due to sit for the first time on Monday, amidst
calls for him to resign and talk of a vote of no confidence in
the parliament.

Violence erupted on Tuesday after Rini was named as the new
leader. Rioters claimed Rini's new government would be heavily
influenced by local Chinese businessmen and the Taiwan
government, which the Solomons recognizes diplomatically.

Rioters and looters targeted Honiara's Chinese population
of a couple of thousand, destroying most of the Chinatown

Solomon Islands government spokesman Johnson Honimae told
Reuters it could take up to five years to rebuild the city.

"A good chunk of the government's revenue comes from the
businesses that have been destroyed," said Honimae. He could
not put an exact figure on how much revenue would be lost.


Dozens of blackened buildings still smolder, their tin
roofs now warped and collapsed. Damaged shops were derelict,
doors and windows missing, with refuse left by looters and
obscene graffiti directed at Rini and Australian-led police

More than 60 people have been arrested, a Royal Solomon
Islands Police spokesman said.

"The police and military maintained a high visibility. It
was a relatively quiet night," said the spokesman, adding a
small number of people were arrested for breaching a night

The Solomons, a chain of 992 islands covering 1.35 million
sq km (520,000 sq miles) of ocean, teetered on the brink of
collapse in 2003 when armed gangs fought over Honiara.
Australia then led a South Pacific force to restore order,
warning that failed states could become terrorist havens.

Australia, New Zealand and Fiji have now committed an extra
360 troops and police to that peacekeeping force to back
Canberra's interventionist policy.

The Solomons is an impoverished country where the majority
of the population of half a million lead subsistence lives.
Ethnic fighting between rival islanders and lawlessness have
claimed hundreds of lives over the past decade.