Extract from my memoirs.
Towards the end of September 1998, an armed militant group, the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA) – the forerunner of the Isatambu Freedom Movement (IMF) – began a violent campaign against Malaitan settlers and workers to forcibly remove them from Guadalcanal.
During the violence up to 20,000 Malaitans were forced from their homes and from the properties where they worked; many houses were burned, women allegedly raped and many of the men seriously assaulted.
By April 1999, many of the evicted Malaitans were forced as refugees to converge on Honiara, streaming through Visale, Aruligo and Kakabona on the way.
The forced removal of the Malaitans had first began on the fringes of the Weathercoast which is the southern, largely remote, region of Guadalcanal and spread, quickly, to the northern plains to the east of Honiara, including the wards of Tasimboko, Ghaobata and Malango.
Homes and shops were raided and ransacked around Tambea and Lambi Bay and migrant farmers driven off the land in Aruligo and Lavuro.
The forced removal of migrant workers spread to all the other areas of western Guadalcanal and later to the eastern side of the island forcing the closure of the Solomon Islands Plantations Limited, (SIPL) and, eventually, the Gold Ridge Mine.
At the Solomon Islands Plantations (SIPL) Malaitan plantation workers were attacked when driving the company vehicles and made to flee. Their homes were also destroyed by fire.
The home of Hilda Kari, the only female MP in the SIAC government, was raided at Rere and property stolen from the house.
There had also been raids on the Tavanipupu Resort off the eastern tip of the island when guests fled fearing for their lives.
When Premier Alebua officiated at a ceremony at Ruavatu High School on the occasion of Guadalcanal’s ‘Appointed Day’ in 1998 he claimed that Guadalcanal land had been stolen from its people.
In a second, more inflammatory speech he made on 30 November 1998, he called for S$2.5 million compensation for 25 alleged murders of his people on the island.
His speeches had focused my attention and that of our Special Branch analysts to the potential for trouble ahead, given the customary practice of payback.
Trouble was not long in coming, as soon afterwards the attacks on Malaitan settlers began in earnest.
In order to try and calm the situation, and also to assess the mood of the people in the affected areas of west Guadalcanal, I conveyed Premier Alebua in my car to Tambea where I addressed the assembled community leaders, calling for their assistance in denouncing the actions of the militants. The same was done on return to Honiara at the Catholic Mission at Visale.
Dorothy Wickham, then of the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Commission (SIBC), covered both speeches made on that day.
Premier Alebua was present at each location but he did not openly support my calls to denounce the violence.
It was shortly after my visit to Tambea Beach Resort that a security guard there was found murdered, allegedly, because he had given information to the police about militants involved in an earlier raid on the property.
Now plantation after plantation was attacked.
When police patrols were deployed to respond to the many, almost daily incidents, the police often came under armed attack from gunmen using an assortment of weapons ranging from home made to what were then believed to be adapted WWII relics. The militants were ambushing from the cover surrounding those settlements and along the approach roads.
The police were using open, unprotected, vehicles and at that time were without any protective equipment such as bullet proof flak vests.
When they did manage to locate those that had been injured or threatened most, if not all, were too afraid to say what had occurred for fear of reprisals. Witnesses and informants kept silent for much the same reasons, but again the customary practice of ‘wantok.’reared its head.
Things had taken a turn for the worse as far as standard police duties were concerned. One could no longer allow one’s own officers to risk their lives on what were no longer standard operations.
Reluctantly, I gave orders for officers on these types of deployments to be armed.
However, I did have them carry the weapons concealed as far as practicable and guarded at all times. Regrettably, this did slow their reaction time down: however I was still erring on the side of police action over military action.
The specific orders I gave to my own police units regarding the use of firearms were later to be examined by the New Zealand Police and full details of their concluding reports, as well as their findings of the investigation into the Bungana shooting incident will be available in the next chapter.
To be continued…
Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 33 : Guadalcanal - the start of the "Ethnic Violence" in 1998
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