April 23, 2006

Chinese nationals flee Solomons

By Michelle Nichols

HONIARA (Reuters) - Australia is sending additional troops
to the Solomon Islands, as more Chinese nationals fled the
country on Sunday amid rising tensions before parliament opens
for the first time since post-election rioting.

The election of new Prime Minister Snyder Rini sparked two
days of rioting last week in the capital Honiara, where a
curfew has been imposed. A peacekeeping force from Australia,
New Zealand and Fiji is patrolling the capital.

About 50 soldiers from New Zealand arrived on Sunday.

Australia's Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said on Sunday
another platoon of 25 soldiers would be sent to the Solomons to
guard the airport, joining 300 military personnel in Honiara.
Two patrol boats would arrive this week, he told ABC

The rioting, fueled by rumors that Taiwan's aid money was
used to help elect Rini, targeted the tiny, but economically
powerful Chinese community in Honiara.

About 150 mainland Chinese were airlifted out of Honiara on
Sunday, traveling to the airport under heavy security in the
back of three small trucks. They will join 90 Chinese who were
flown to Papua New Guinea on Saturday on a Beijing chartered
aircraft and will eventually be repatriated to China.

The Solomons, like other Pacific island countries, has been
caught up in a battle for diplomatic influence between China
and Taiwan, which split in a civil war six decades ago.

The Solomons officially recognizes Taiwan, but China is
trying to lure it and Taiwan's other diplomatic allies away.


The military will lock down the Solomons parliament on
Monday when MPs meet for the first time since an election
earlier this month. That poll was the first 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.
Both sides claim they have the numbers to be successful.

Church leaders appealed to congregations on Sunday for calm
and asked looters to return what they had stolen.

"As soon as the Chinese have the courage to open their
doors again, they should go in and shake their hands and say
sorry," Catholic Archbishop Adrian Smith told Honiara's packed
Holy Cross church.

Honiara's Chinatown was destroyed in the rioting and
looting, with buildings burned to the ground, forcing some
Chinese to jump from windows and flee across a nearby river.
The Chinese number just a few thousand in the Solomons'
550,000-strong population.

"I hope there no more violence this week, because it will
make the whole country's economy a lot worse," said Moon
Pinkwan, 55, whose shop was burned down.

China and Taiwan have long battled for diplomatic
recognition from South Pacific nations. A recent Australian
Senate report on China said the diplomatic competition could
hurt political stability and economic development in the South

It described the rivalry between Beijing and Taipei -- as a
"Pacific Cold War," with both using "cheque book diplomacy."


Taiwan, one of the biggest aid donors to the Solomons, must
know that since its money is going through the prime minister's
office instead of the finance ministry it is being misused,
opposition leader Job Dudley Tausinga said on Sunday.

"Taiwan knows that and they perpetuate that by using the
prime minister's office to disperse the funds," Tausinga, who
lost the parliamentary poll for prime minister on Tuesday to
Rini by just a few votes, told reporters.

Solomons voters ousted half their parliament in the poll in
early April, but it wasn't enough to unseat the government,
with Rini being elevated to the top job and naming 11 members
of the previous government in his 21-member cabinet.

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 led a South Pacific force to restore order,
warning that failed states could become terrorist havens.

Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea have all
committed more troops and police to the Solomons since the
latest unrest, bring the foreign peacekeeping force to more
than 700.