Monday, 27 April 2009 12:43 PM

Testimony Before The Truth And Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

Dear Editor,

I would like to clarify what Ms Katya Fono said in her letter regarding my leaving the Solomons.

I left at the end of my two year contract, reluctantly but voluntarily, despite having been given the opportunity of renewing the contract for another two years.

I was not prepared to continue heading a police service in a situation in the Solomons where brother was pitted against brother in an increasingly hostile and threatening security situation.

The two main "militants" at the time, Keke and Sangu, had rejected my appeal to them to lay down their arms and to allow the grievances and allegations of the Guadalcanal Administration to be dealt with in the negotiation process entered into with the then SIAC Government.

The police were coming under increasing armed attack from militants, especially when responding to incidents which occurred in both the eastern and western parts of Guadalcanal.

I was not content to oversee and armed constabulary ill-prepared, ill-trained and under-resourced to deal with a growing insurgency.

I had recruited, sub-rosa, a specialist intelligence officer from overseas and he had made a very accurate assessment of the serious potential for an escalation of the ethnic conflict, based on a captured document in particular.

That assessment was made available to the SIAC Government, to all diplomatic heads and to regional governments which shared intelligence and which had mutual defence arrangements with the Solomons.

I had earlier requested intelligence support from one of those governments to better assess the threats but this was refused.

Likewise aid in the form of a strategic review of the RSIP had fallen short of requirements with the offer of merely "institutional strengthening" to remedy what I had described as a collapse in the whole structure of the police service, given the run-down state it had been allowed to fall into. A major injection of funding and equipment, coupled with re-training was needed; not the institutional strengthening of officers ready to retire and who had earlier applied for redundancy packages in the governments proposed re-structuring program for the civil service.

Alas, this kind of support came years too late with the arrival of RAMSI, following the coup, and with a changed political will on the part of regional governments following the first Bali bombing.

Given the lack of regional support, I advised the PM and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to seek the aid of the Commonwealth in trying to broker a peace deal with the Guadalcanal militants. I worked with Mr Sitiveni Rabuka fully but criticized him for appearing to be less than neutral in his handling of the situation he had come to try and defuse.

I knew that leaving the Solomons when I did would see a rise in the conflict for I had crucial information which I shared with the Prime Minister of the growing threats to his government and the potential for "pay-back" but I felt it would be best to stand aside and for the government to find an alternative appointee who might be considered more neutral, although it was a fallacy to suggest that I wasn't since all my community policing initiatives had been centered on Guadalcanal, with the youth, the churches, the missions, the women's groups, the communities - and with re-building of White River Police Station and the establishment of police posts in and around Honiara.

Keke and Sangu had been captured and imprisoned after the Bungana shooting incident but they were released by the Senior Magistrate with bail put up by the Premier of Guadalcanal Province, Alebua, only to abscond to the Weathercoast and greatly escalate the insurgency.

It is the greatest irony that when they were re-captured following the intervention of RAMSI, they were both held without trial for many months before being brought to justice.

At the time the Chief Magistrate released them, at the urging of the Public Defender, they had been in custody less than a month.

It is ironic, too, that after being captured on Bungana island, Sangu wrote a note from his prison cell calling on his followers to end the struggle.

Yours sincerely,

Frank Short

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of Frank Short and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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