NZ Defence Force personnel return home as tensions ease

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Some New Zealand military personnel deployed as part of the international assistance mission to the Solomon Islands have returned home early.

They will even be out of MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) in time for Christmas after the whirlwind deployment.

The decision to pull the personnel back came after the security situation in the capital, Honiara, calmed following days of violence and unrest that preceded the call for help from the Solomon Islands Government at the start of December.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokeswoman on Wednesday said about 20 Defence personnel had returned from the Solomons already, after less than two weeks away.

The deployment of military personnel and police officers was scheduled to last for 30 days.

“We are in contact with Solomon Islands authorities and other international partners, and all report the situation on the ground in Honiara as calm.

“Accordingly, some personnel have now returned to New Zealand and further decisions will be made in the coming days based on the security situation.”

Dozens of Defence Force personnel, including 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment soldiers from the High Readiness Task Unit, began deploying to the islands nearly two weeks ago.

About a dozen police officers were also sent to the country.

Their deployment came after the embattled government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare requested assistance from New Zealand.

The New Zealand police officers and soldiers arrived several days after personnel from Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, and after the unrest receded following days of violence, protests and looting in Honiara.

The protesters, mainly people from the most populous island of Malaita, demanded Sogavare’s resignation.

The prime minister has been widely criticised by political leaders on Malaita for a decision two years ago to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, favouring mainland China.

The unrest began from a peaceful protest driven by economic issues, the country’s increasing links to mainland China, and internal regional rivalries.

There were fears of renewed violence in Honiara last week as parliament debated a motion of no confidence in Sogavare. That motion was defeated on the evening of Monday, 06 December .

Speaking to Stuff earlier that day from Wellington, Inspector Dave Rose, the manager of the police overseas assistance programmes, said the team was finding the situation calm in the capital as businesses and the port reopened.

“The situation over there is calm, so it has given them the opportunity to become familiar with the layout of Honiara.”

They initially isolated but after all returning negative Covid tests following their arrival, they were beginning to undertake community patrols, he said.

While military and police assistance was requested by the central government in Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal, the international personnel were not welcomed by all.

ABC reported Malaitan Premier Daniel Suidani accused the Australian Government of “holding up a corrupt leadership” by sending advisers to help the Solomon Islands police during the protests.

Sogavare fired back, telling ABC Suidani was asking his government to be at the “mercy of criminals and hooligans”.

Stuff has sought comment from Sogavare and Suidani.

Rose said last week his team had been welcomed.

“New Zealand as a country and our people are well-regarded by the Solomon Islanders and NZ police enjoys a great reputation with the people of Honiara.

“So we have certainly been welcomed and our team are happy to be there,” said Rose.

SOURCE: STUFF NZ/PACNEWS