As the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) plans its exit, government is again seriously exploring the possibility of re-arming the police force.
Government sources say that plans to re-arm the police is unrelated to recent rumors of renewed trouble. Several postings on social media, including posts in the name of one of the country’s most notorious militants, have caused concerns among Honiara residents.
“Let me just say that these are all rumors, investigations are ongoing, and this is part of overall policing efforts to get to the bottom of such rumors.
“What I can say is that these rumors are unfounded, they are postings made in social media, which has already been rejected by senior Guadalcanal leaders.”
He says that plans to re-arm the police has been an ongoing discussion, done at the highest levels in government, the police and RAMSI.
"We have carried out several consultations with the community as well, so it is ongoing and the approach is one that considers the sensitivities out there in the community."
The Solomon Islands government is in talks with Australia over future security arrangements after more than $2.6 billion was spent on maintaining the peace and rebuilding the Pacific island nation since 2003.
“We have mixed feelings on this (RAMSI leaving). Some of us think it is too early, for me it's okay. We have reconciled the difficult parts and the real threat is over,” said Father John Patteson Ngalihesi, chief advisor to the Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
“They have done great. The perspective ... is Australia is a saviour, they came in and saved this country, restored this country.
“Australia has done something, we need to pick up,” Father Ngalihesi said.
The mission is due to end in June next year and one of its last goals is to oversee the rearmament of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF).
“There are still concerns about the police force, and there are bound to be. We are slowly regaining the trust of the community,” said RSIPF Commissioner Frank Prendergast, who will return to his post with the Australian Federal Police in Canberra later this year.
“The bulk of the Solomon Islands are supportive of rearmament in some form, because they recognise the need for an armed capacity.
“We’re involved in limited rearmament of the RSIPF and that really is the final piece in the puzzle for us to say, ‘We can police without assistance’,” Commissioner Prendergast said.
Solomon police received extensive training from the RAMSI and now perform operational policing in the country, three years after the military component of the peacekeeping mission withdrew.
It is planned that only the public order and VIP protection units will be rearmed.
“We’re talking pistols, shotguns and a very limited number of rifles, which are mainly for controlling crocodiles when they threaten communities,” Commissioner Prendergast said.
“The final decision for rearmament is for the government and the plan is that it will occur before RAMSI finishes.”