RAMSI tries to allay security fears in Shortland Islands | Pacific Beat

RAMSI tries to allay security fears in Shortland Islands

RAMSI tries to allay security fears in Shortland Islands

Updated 28 February 2013, 11:47 AEDT

There's growing concern over security in the Shortland Islands in Solomon Islands.

They're close to the border with Papua New Guinea and people fear the future once the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, RAMSI withdraws.

Edward Kingmele, a Shortland Islands chief called this week for AusAid to finance weapons, logistics and infrastructure for border security posts.

Two RAMSI official have just returned to Honiara from the Shortlands where they attempted to reassure the community of their safety once RAMSI withdraws.

Presenter:Campbell Cooney

Speaker:Koroi Hawkins, journalist, Solomon Islands

HAWKINS: To give some context Kingmele's comments were made after news of the consultations in the Shortlands, which is near the border, took place. So they are in a high site in a way. So basically what's happening is for a while now RAMSI has been pulling out of provincial outposts and taking their officers out of the posts and letting RSIPF or local police man them. And they said initially that they would leave a police post on the border because of issues with the Bougainvilleans and border crossings and the like. But now they're saying that they will also be withdrawing from Lofang which is in the Shortland Islands. And so they held a consultation to see what the community thought about it and to explain. And from speaking to the two RAMSI officers, local Solomon Islanders who are on the trip, they said the community there is very concerned because in their view the local police officers do not have the capacity or the means to protect them on the border, because although how they describe it is that although parts of Bougainville are being policed, the southern part, which is closer to the Solomon Islands, still has a lot of firearms and guns in the community, and they have had several incidents in just the past month where Bougainvilleans have come across in one case demanding seven chainsaws from a local logging company, which they got away with. Also demanding fuel from a local fuel provider and not paying for it, and fishing with dynamite in their waters, and them not being able to say anything because the people are armed. And there's also some concern of some Bougainvilleans settling on some islands in the area. There's also the issue of inter-mingled lines, bloodlines, because there are family ties between Bougainville and the Shortlands, they're that close. Policies that are to be drawn up regarding the border issue will probably need to take these things into account.
COONEY: Well I suppose it's an anomaly of history that the line was put down between the Shortlands and Bougainville. As you say there's big family links that go back a long way. What are they able to offer in terms of some sort to make them feel better, that most of the Solomon Islands police are not armed and RAMSI seems keen on pulling out. Are they able to convince people up there that this is going to work?
HAWKINS: Yes well the police minister and his permanent secretary were part of the delegation to the Shortlands, and the whole idea now is that RAMSI is no longer going to be here and they're trying to give more responsibility to the local police and the local authorities. So the police minister reassured his people, he's actually from the area, that a police bill is being put to parliament in March, and in that bill there will be some areas and conditions looked at that will try and address the situation. I understand the police have also said that they have requested or are in the process of requesting that a maritime base be setup somewhere in the Shortlands, or also in Choiseul in that area, though this is early days yet for that sort of an idea to come forth. But they are trying to reassure the communities that they know of the situation and they are looking at ways forward. There's been no mention or a request to Australian assistance on the border from authorities. That was a statement made by as you said Kingmele earlier. But I'm not aware of an official request made in that regard, and I don't see Australia upgrading while they're trying to downgrade RAMSI.
COONEY: Also of course there's a number of meetings between PNG and Solomon Islands governments over the border issue. Has PNG had anything to say about this at this stage?
HAWKINS: So far nothing and I might add at this time that the two patrol boats that we do have are funded by Australia, fuelled by Australia, and a lot of the training for our maritime services is part of Australian defence assistance and cooperation of the Solomon Islands. PNG, it's a bit of a touchy issue because of what happened during the crisis was that Solomon Islands took in some Bougainvilleans coming over the border, and I think there was some tensions with Papua New Guinea over that. So what the actual talk is between Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands I'm not clear of at this time.

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