For the past ten years PNG soldiers have served in the country alongside Australian, New Zealand and Tongan troops as part of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, also known as RAMSI.
The troops were farewelled in a ceremony in Honiara and are being replaced by a contingent from Tonga.
RAMSI's Special Coordinator Wayne Higgins says PNG's Melanesian connection has been highly valuable to the mission and PNG will have a new role in RAMSI later on in the year.
Presenter: Iskhander Razak
Speaker: RAMSI Deputy Special Coordinator Wayne Higgins
HIGGINS: Well the ceremony went very well, we had representatives from various high commissions including the PNG High Commission were at the ceremony. This is a routine activity for RAMSI every four months, the military rotate their contingents. This was in some ways was routine that three platoons were leaving and three platoons were arriving. So two ADF, Australian Defence Force platoons and one PNG DF were farewelled, and two ADF and one Tongan defence service platoon were welcomed. But on this occasion it just happens to be that subject to final ministerial consideration this will be the last rotation of the PNG, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force platoon.
RAZAK: Have they been part of the operation since the beginning for the last ten years?
HIGGINS: Yes for the last ten years, yes.
RAZAK: So this does mark the end of their involvement for the time being. Was there emotion in that?
HIGGINS: Yes there was, there was a lot of I think it's probably more normal emotion that comes after they spent four months in a mission with their friends who were from the Australian Defence Force, there's also a few Kiwis there. And yes there was a bit of emotion in that, they've enjoyed their service here, they got a lot out of their service here and they've made a very worthwhile contribution to the mission.
RAZAK: What role has PNG's personnel taken in RAMSI so far? The same as any other say the ADF or has it been slightly different in any way?
HIGGINS: No their duties there are exactly the same as all the soldiers who are deployed here. They do have a shall we say strong Melanesian connection, they're Melanesian themselves, and they speak obviously pidgin, and PNG pidgin is not too distant from Solomon Islands pidgin, so they've got that instant contact and rapport with the local communities. But other than that their duties are the same.
RAZAK: And how does that help having that Melanesian connection? Has it been a real positive?
HIGGINS: By and large it has because of course it immediately breeds familiarity and people can relate to one another, their issues are the same. I mean Bougainville, which is part of PNG is just over the border, a lot of people up in the north have relatives who are connected to that. So yes it's an obvious plus, but as I say their duties still remain the same as every other soldier here.
RAZAK: And now we've got a Tongan contingent moving in as part of this, is this normal or have they been part of it since the beginning as well?
HIGGINS: Yes they have, the Tongans, obviously Australians, the PNG and New Zealand have been with RAMSI since its inception.
RAZAK: RAMSI changes I guess tack or transitions in the middle of the year, how is that transition going?
HIGGINS: It's going very well, it's a transition that's been planned, it's been gradual over the last few years and it's been done in close consultation with Solomon Islands government. And the idea is that against it's subject to final decision, by the middle of the year RAMSI will become a police focussed mission. In all likelihood the military will depart and all our RAMSI programs will move across to bilateral and other donors. So I mean the elements of RAMSI are remaining but under a different name, but RAMSI itself will continue as a police focussed mission.
RAZAK: And will PNG have a role to play in that police focussed mission?
HIGGINS: Yes it definitely will, it will retain its regional focus and all the region that can, that can send police officers will be represented here, and that will include PNG police force, they've made a great contribution.