Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Friday, 15 March 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 29: New Weapons Purchases, valued at US$4 million - why?

Extract from my memoirs.

Within a few days of assuming office as Commissioner, I was visited in my office by the U.S. Ambassador based in Port Moresby, Arma Jane Karaer, and by the U.S. Defence Adviser from Canberra, who accompanied the Ambassador.

The purpose of the visit was to inform me that the outgoing Mamaloni government had, earlier, placed an order for some US$4 million of arms with a US arms supplier, Century Arms, and I was asked for my opinion.

The proposed arms shipment would include M-16s, ammunition and two aircraft.

An immediate thought was… who is paying for this shipment when we were supposedly broke?

And the follow up thought Oh… oh… Are we in the process of being converted from a quiet Pacific Island country, of danger to no one, into a considered menace to our neighbours, including other Islanders’ living within the Solomon Islands?

This weaponry mix would bring with it immediate baggage – upgrading our own physical security to secure and protect this influx of modern arms just to start. The armoury where the arms would be secured would need additional security and inventory control. Training of personnel and the cost of replacement ammunition for that used in training. The two aircraft – pilots, fuel, spares, landing field maintenance…

And who was supposed to be issued this weaponry?

Again – our financial situation – we were in arrears with police pay amongst other payments.

At the time, the Burnham Truce Declaration had brought about a cease fire in Bougainville and we were swimming in small arms and ammunition. We already had new M-16s and SLR’s both top line automatic army rifles. Add shotguns, automatic pistols and other miscellaneous accoutrements for war, all of which were suitable for military operations.

After discovering that the arms export licence had still to be granted by the US government, I told the Ambassador that I did not approve of the proposed arms shipment.

The talks over, the high level visitors left with the Ambassador saying she would convey my objection to the arms order to the caretaker prime minister.

In an earlier column I brought up a conclusion that the Islands did not really need a military force and that the police de facto operations were adequate.

It transpired that the arms shipment went ahead despite my expressed concerns but by then Mamaloni had left office and Ulufa’ala was the new prime minister.

I requested the incoming Prime Minister to consider having the arms shipment diverted from its course to the Solomons and the containers were impounded by Australia and New Zealand.

In 2006, at the request of the Solomon Islands Government, New Zealand destroyed the weapons held there.

However I never found out where the funds came from to pay out US$4 million? Arms suppliers do not usually extend credit.

To be continued…

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