Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Wednesday, 3 April 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 37: June 1999 - The Solomon Islands declared a State of Emergency.


Extract from my memoirs.

Following the savage murder of an old man and a two year old child in a village near the Solomon Islands Plantations (SIPL) the government issued a statement promising ‘effective action’ against the ethnic militants who were then driving the country ever closer to a civil war.

In June 1999 the Cabinet’s decision to get tough culminated in the Governor General declaring a State of Emergency giving the police greater powers of detention and providing for prohibition on some movements.

I had mixed feelings about the Declaration and advised the government accordingly, before its introduction.

One envisaged the police having to monitor curfews at a time when members of the force were already fully stretched. Responding, as best they could, to general public incidents as well as guarding key installations around the clock.

I did welcome provisions in the emergency regulations, which provided penalties for those making wild claims, deliberately spreading false rumours and generally adding to public fear and apprehension.

The emergency regulations were similar to those that had been introduced across the Solomon’s border with Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville Island a year before.

The idea was that the legislation would help to check, if not fully curtail, the militants’ criminal activities. The reality was the police was unable to penetrate into large areas of eastern and western Guadalcanal because illegal roadblocks had been set up and manned by armed rebels.

During this time while Sitiveni Rabuka was meeting with Isatambu Freedom Fighters (IFM) on the outskirts of Honiara at the roadblocks they had set-up, the government offered to make an S$2.5 million payment to the self-styled GRA faction, led by Joseph Sangu, in return to end the conflict.

Sangu had offered to lay down arms if the government would give him and his fellow militants an amnesty, but Prime Minister Ulufa’ala had responded saying the government was in no position to offer an amnesty when the law had been broken and that Sangu and his group should surrender and be charged with the crimes they had allegedly committed.

I, too, had made a public appeal calling on both Sangu and Keke to surrender; lay down their arms, and allow the government to properly consider the ‘bona fide’ demands of the Guadalcanal Province. I wrote that nothing good could come from seeking power through the barrel of a gun.

My appeal was ignored and militancy intensified.

To be continued ……

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