SOLOMON ISLANDS 2003
Troops, Police in Solomons Next Thursday
Friday July 18, 02:07 PM
The first police and military elements of the Australian-led Solomon Islands intervention force are likely to deploy to the strife-torn nation next Thursday, the government has announced. Defence Minister Robert Hill said the landing ship HMAS Manoora would leave Townsville on Monday in preparation for the deployment.
The announcement follows the passage of legislation through the Solomons parliament, which creates a legal basis for the mission to restore law and order in the Pacific nation.
The Australian government has yet to give the final go-ahead for the operation, tipped to involve up to 1,500 Australian troops and logistics personnel and up to 300 police. Also involved will be elements from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Fiji.
The final green light will come at a meeting of the Cabinet national security committee in Canberra on Tuesday. That will also determine the sensitive issue of the rules of engagement which stipulate under what circumstances police and troops may open fire. Senator Hill said preparations for the operation were now well under way. Manoora was sailing a day ahead of the official go-ahead to ensure it could be in place for the arrival by air of police and military elements that the government might decide to send to the Solomons, Senator Hill said.
Senator Hill said he expected the initial police and military elements would be in a position to deploy from next Thursday. "Australian and Pacific Island country contingents, including both police and military elements, are starting to prepare and train in Townsville for deployment once the formal approval is given," he said in a statement. "The first Pacific Island military contingent to arrive in Townsville will be from Fiji later today. Other Pacific Island contingents will follow. "This combined preparation will ensure that all contingents are well-prepared to work together to uphold the laws of the Solomon Islands and assist the Solomon Islands government and people restore stability in their country." Senator Hill said restoring law and order to the Solomon Islands was essentially a policing task. "The defence force elements from Pacific Forum countries, including Australia, would provide back-up for the police, as well as assisting with logistic support and humanitarian tasks," he said. Since the Solomons operation is foremost a policing mission, the rules of engagement are likely to be more restrictive than those which applied in East Timor.