Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has defended calling in Australian police and army troops for help, saying without them his government would be left “to the mercy of criminals and hooligans.”
The deployment of officers from Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji to help quell violent protests that have rocked the capital of Honiara has proved controversial.
Many of the protesters were from Malaita province, which has a history of disputes with the national government and opposed the switch in 2019 to formally recognise China instead of Taiwan.
Malaita’s Premier Daniel Suidani accused the Australian government of “holding up a corrupt leadership” by sending in reinforcements to help the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force respond to the protests, which resulted in riots and arson attacks.
But speaking to the ABC, Sogavare described Suidani as “very, very stupid” for criticising the presence of Australian police and army officers.
“What he (Suidani) is asking there is for government to be left to the mercy of criminals and hooligans, to pull down a democratically-elected govt,” he said.
“If that’s what you’re supporting… it’s not right.”
Around 100 Australian police and soldiers arrived in Honiara last week, along with a contingent of 50 from Papua New Guinea and another 50 from Fiji on the way.
They are working alongside local police and have helped restore calm, although tensions remain high.
Sogavare said there are ongoing discussions about how many foreign police and soldiers were needed and for how long.
“What is on the ground is delivering. They are doing a fine, excellent job to control what has happened, it is very peaceful now,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously signalled he expected the deployment to last for several weeks.
Suidani has said the involvement of foreign troops would see Sogavare “avoid dealing with all the issue(s) that need to be dealt with”.
Some residents of Malaita Province believe their island is neglected by the central government, a division exacerbated by Sogavare’s government ending long-standing recognition of Taipei in favour of establishing links with Beijing.
But Sogavare said “millions and millions of dollars” have been spent on projects in Malaita and blamed lack of progress on the island on local land disputes.
“We did not neglect Malaita. The problem is that Malaitans need to pull up their socks,” he said.
Solomon Islands’ Parliament has resumed sitting, with Sogavare pointing to the passage of supply bills as evidence of support for his government.
He will face a motion of no confidence initiated by the Opposition Leader Matthew Wales next week.
Despite the resignation of four government members, Sogavare still holds a clear majority and is confident of defeating the motion.
“Bring it on. We are ready,” he said. “If that is moved on Monday, we will just crush it.”
“There are eight other provinces that are fed up with what is happening and are calling for the implementation of the federal-state system, so that is what we are going to do.
Sogavare said he was “still in Honiara,” dispelling rumours he had left the city.
“My residence was torched…. so we had to move to another place. I’m temporarily located elsewhere in the city,” he said.