April 22, 2006

Australia sends more soldiers to tense Solomons

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia is sending more soldiers to
the Solomon Islands, with tensions rising as parliament sits
this week for the first time since post-election rioting,
Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said.

Nelson said on Sunday Australia had about 300 defense
personnel in the Solomon Islands, where the election of Snyder
Rini as prime minister sparked two days of violent rioting and
looting in the capital Honiara last week.

"This morning I have agreed to the request from defense to
dispatch the airfield defense guards, that is another platoon
of 25," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.

"Yesterday, we dispatched HMAS Townsville from Cairns, one
of our patrol boats, which will arrive in Honiara early
tomorrow morning, and we would expect this week that HMAS
Armidale will also arrive."

The government said on Saturday it was sending two Iroquois
helicopters, along with 45 personnel from Oakey in Queensland,
as well as 25 personnel from Townsville.

"We are determined to send a very strong signal to those
people in the Solomon Islands that are causing unrest and have
perpetrated the sort of criminal activity and behavior over the
last week that we have seen, Nelson said.

The military will lock down the Solomons parliament on
Monday when MPs meet for the first time since an election
earlier this month, the first poll since Australian-led
peacekeepers restored law and order in 2003 after violent
ethnic unrest.

Opposition parties have already moved a no-confidence
motion against Rini, which is due to go to a vote on Wednesday,
with both sides claiming they have the numbers to be

"We anticipate, of course, that tensions will rise over the
next few days, not just Monday, but throughout the week with
parliament resuming," Nelson said. "We are just making sure we
are absolutely ready."

He said he did not anticipate that Australia would need to
further bolster its presence over the next few days, but could
do so if necessary.

"We will judge it on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. We
will be there at this level for at least a month," he said.