Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Wednesday, 17 April 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 43: Giving Peace a Chance - My Decision Alone.

Extract from my memoirs.

Since early 1999 successive attempts were made by the SIAC government to bring to an end the crisis on Guadalcanal by looking into the underlying issues and to deal with the demands of the various parties, included, as previously mentioned, a S$2.5 million payment to the self-styled leaders of the GRA in return for ending the conflict.

What name could be used to explain this final offer as it stood? And where was this payment surfacing from? Admittedly, after the arms shipment funds, totalling US$4 million, nothing was a surprise anymore.

In May 1999, before the introduction of the state of emergency declaration, a kastom feast took place in Honiara, which I attended, bringing together the ‘Big Men’ from Guadalcanal and Malaita to reconcile their differences; it failed to halt the troubles because the perpetrators of the violence claimed it had not addressed the underlying causes of the tensions.

Eventually, Peace meetings convened by the Commonwealth Envoy, Sitiveni Rabuka, did result in what was termed the Honiara Peace Accord being signed on 28 June 1999.

In signing that accord the parties acknowledged that successive governments since independence had ignored many of the issues raised as demands of the Guadalcanal people. The government made a commitment to address the issues, especially those complaints relating to land.

Yes, one did have some personal satisfaction when the blanket accord was signed since I had recommended the government obtain assistance from the Commonwealth.

However, the Guadalcanal militants had carefully excluded themselves from being signatories to the accord: worse still the Island politicians had allowed them to get away with that open ended approach.

Their hostilities continued after what could be called a brief respite; allowed to re-arm and re-organize, with renewed anticipation of the fact that at worst they had a political draw: best scenario a political win.

By now with my contract ending the militants saw their chance and seized the opportunity.

First, they claimed they would only lay down their arms if I left; a situation vastly helped by a spreading of deliberate false information and downright lies about me personally.

However, about the same time other leading militants also declared they would not stop their campaign until all the people of Malaita had been forced out of Guadalcanal.

My public appeals to Keke and Sangu to lay down their arms and to allow the government to fully consider the ‘Bona Fide’ demands being pressed by Alebua were ignored, as I explained earlier.

The showpiece Honiara Peace Accord had been signed; my two year contract was almost up. Now it was decision time, although the Prime Minister had announced, publically, on 1st June 1999 that the government had extended my contract for another two years. He also stated that he was pleased with the way I had carried out my work as Commissioner.

I was grateful to the Prime Minister and appreciated his confidence in my efforts.

As I contemplated a second contract, my belief was that the Solomon Islands was on the verge of a bloody civil war with no external help forthcoming, despite my early warnings and the submission of Monarch's intelligence assessment of increased militancy.

The government’s call for assistance from our regional neighbours and the United Nations had also been ignored.

I concluded we were alone, unheard, vulnerable, unaided and my reaction - Shame!

By remaining as Commissioner, I knew that I would have no option but to resorting to much stronger police enforcement, involving para military action and this would of necessity require ordering the use of force and using weaponry against militants who were, clearly, being manipulated by selfish politicians pushing old grievances as convenient new tactics in challenging the government of the day.

In such circumstances, the police would most likely be involved in firing on their own Melanesian brothers, kith and kin, and this would undoubtedly exacerbate the ethnic divisions already evident in the Force, but also, in my view, destroy the very nature of the fragile nation, to say nothing of the casualties and likely loss of life on both sides of the conflict.

The militants were capable of hit and run tactics and could easily out-manoeuvre the police. They were also in possession of firearms, some stolen, some converted from old wartime stocks and some homemade; all capable of inflicting injury or death.

The police had no protective clothing equipment or protected vehicles and would be vulnerable during operations, as had already been proven.

A guerrilla warfare campaign was unsustainable and the only really sensible, lasting solution was a political one.

I wasn't prepared to be party to bringing down universal human rights condemnation on a nation and people that I had sworn to protect and serve and it was my reasoning that, if by leaving, there was the possibility that the militants would end their actions and negotiate a peace, then I could not allow such a peace, however allusive it then seemed, to be missed - hence my resignation.

Regrettably, that peace did not come about; fighting and bloodshed intensified for many more years and any hopes I once had for reforming and re-shaping the police service ended.

In 2000 just over a year after leaving the Solomons, I was very sad when some members of the RSIPF abandoned their pledge of impartiality and took up arms in the civil conflict, subordinated to political and personal pressures.

As much as I had warned the government of the likelihood of pay back by certain elements in the police, as you will read later on, the degree and extent of their unlawful actions cause me now to wonder how long it will be before the RSIPF is fully trusted again by a society known to have long memories.

In my letter of resignation, I wrote:

“I confirm my intention to leave the Solomon Islands on the completion of my current contract on 23 July 1999.

“The decision to decline a further contract has not been taken lightly for I came to this country with a determination to reform the entire police service and to win respect for an organization that had been devoid of leadership, resources and facilities for many years.

“I can honestly say that I have devoted my whole time in trying to achieve my aims, including outlaying large sums of money of my personal funds to acquire essentials when funds were not provided.


“The cosmetic changes that have been made and the service delivery that has been enhanced cannot be sustained without effective, committed and loyal officers and money to acquire logistical equipment, improve and build police facilities, recruit personnel and re-train the whole organization.

“The inherited debt burden faced by the government on assuming office worked to prevent these reforms. No amount of personal initiative or encouragement can succeed, in the long term, without the realization that an effective police service, of adequate strength and capability, is necessary at all times to provide security and aid the development of the country.

“I have had to appeal for funds and equipment from many sources, including our development partners. I have also taken the initiative to have a security review undertaken of the nation’s security needs, but a Police Commissioner should not be expected to continually beg for money to maintain essential services.

“My calls for the early retirement of senior officers (at their own request) and to have them replaced has not been finalized after 2 years and there is still no funding available to provide fuel, buildings, maintenance, uniforms, transport, communications, recruitment, training, operations…The list is endless.

“The press criticism is but a small part of the major picture and I have warned, repeatedly, of the adverse affect it is having on morale. Despite this, and until yesterday, there was little time, if any, to curb the critical attacks on myself and the police as a whole. The police are now accused of brutality without any evidence or proof and the Royal Commission, which I requested and which could have discounted the allegations, if evidence had been presented, has still not be formed.

“I am now subjected to calls for my resignation and removal from office. I have even been told by the Deputy Speaker of the National Parliament to “pack my bags” and calls are being made for police officers’ to improve their image on Guadalcanal.

“I have taken independent advice about my decision to leave and advised that my staying will not help in promoting community policing on Guadalcanal for some years. The hatred caused by the divide that has developed between the people of Guadalcanal and Malaita will work against community policing. Given that this is true, and I believe it is, I would not wish to oversee an armed constabulary forever standing between two aggressive tribes.

“It was initiative, largely, that saw the Commonwealth Mission arrive and begin peace talks and one which one would hope will lead to a settlement and a return to normality. Normality will be fragile, however, based on the massive disruption that has been caused and “pay back” is at the core of the custom of the people.

“It is true that the expatriate advisers that I had earmarked to come from the United Kingdom will not come when I leave and the European Union assistance programme that I had engineered will also be shelved, perhaps cancelled if the security situation does not improve.

“It leaves me saddened to have to leave the Solomon Islands when there is so much to be done in re-building the police service and, indeed the country, but there is only so much that one individual can do without the tools to do the job and the realization that no one is indispensable.”

30 June 1999”

I should add.

I was touched by the overwhelming support from the members of the force and the public to reconsider my decision to leave and I did have serious doubts that what I was doing was best for the country, especially as the Prime Minister said to me privately, “You know, Frank, if you do leave my government will fall.” How prophetic those words would soon become.

Not only did I get messages of support and encouragement to change my mind from the general public and the police in the Solomons, but I also got a letter from the US Ambassador based in Port Moresby and the US Director of the FBI in Washington, Judge Lois J. Freeh, who commented on the mutually beneficial relationship we had achieved during my time as Commissioner.

I assured the Prime Minister, some days before leaving, that I really did not want to go but I could not envisage being able to contain the low scale civil war that it had become without external intervention in support of the ill-equipped, under-resourced police service, and I repeated it was not my desire to use high powered automatic weapons in trying to bring an end to the national ordeal, risking the lives of my police officers and civilians alike.

I emphasized to the Prime Minister there had to be an early political solution to the crisis and not a military one by the deployment of the RSIPF and I urged him to renew his calls for outside intervention to broker a fresh peace agreement and end hostilities.

I also warned the Prime Minister of secret information that I had about the intention of some members of the police taking retaliation for having been constantly abused and labelled as “Dog’s sperm.”

I added that out of loyalty to me, it had been said, those members would not act if I stayed as Commissioner, but would enact, what they claimed as “justice,” should I leave.

Their threat of retaliation would persist, it was also claimed, even if I were to be replaced by a retired New Zealand police officer, as was then being mooted.

I repeated this same, vital, information to the members of the Cabinet, presided over by Sir Baddeley Devasi, on the eve of my departure but was angrily rebuffed by Patterson Otti who retorted across the table, “You don’t tell us what to do, we tell you, as we are the elected representatives of the people.”

I calmly replied that I wasn’t telling the assembled Ministers' what to do but merely giving them information I thought important they should have. Other Ministers shook their heads in apparent disbelief at Otti's outburst.

Here, readers might well pause and reflect on what regrettably occurred less than a year later when the Rove police armoury was raided, weapons stolen, and the Prime Minister held captive and forced into a humiliating resignation.

On my return to Australia in late July 1999, I met with an intelligence officer at the headquarters of the Defence Intelligence Organization (DIO) in Canberra where I again stressed the likelihood of ‘pay back’ by elements of the police, but from all accounts of subsequent reports relating to Australia’s intelligence assessments of the situation, my advice was either not taken seriously or discounted.

A grave error, and when the so-called “coup” did occur in 2000, Australian intelligence had failed to see it coming.

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.