The Australian Federal Police (AFP) says it received funding in the budget to further ramp up assistance to Solomon Islands police, including by building a new training centre to help police respond to riots and “accelerating” moves to rearm officers in the Pacific Island country.
The AFP sent dozens of officers to Solomon Islands in November last year to restore order after violent riots rocked the capital Honiara, and last month’s federal budget dedicated almost $46 million (US$29 million) to ensure a small team of Australian officers can remain on the ground until the Pacific Games next year.
The AFP’s Chief Operating Officer Charlotte Tressler told Senate estimates that while the “bulk” of that money would be used to fund the deployment, some of the funding would also be funnelled into other initiatives.
“That included establishing a multipurpose use of force training centre for public order management training, establishing a mobile protection unit, accelerating stage two rearmament, increasing public order management, and some operational vehicles as well,” she said.
The AFP handed 60 semi-automatic rifles to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF), drawing praise from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare but condemnation from the country’s Opposition Leader Matthew Wale, who accused Australia of rushing to militarise the country.
Wale also said Australia was being driven by anxiety over China’s burgeoning security cooperation with Solomon Islands.
Beijing handed two water cannon trucks and dozens of vehicles and motorcycles to Solomon Islands police in Honiara only two days after Australia publicly handed over the rifles.
It’s not yet clear if the “accelerated” rearmament goes beyond the 60 rifles already handed over.
A spokesperson for the AFP said the training centre was “currently being scoped” and “will provide a venue for RSIPF to train alongside AFP and other contributing nations in a variety of police related trainings”.
That seems to suggest that it will also be available for use by Chinese police, which has ramped up its own training programs in Solomon Islands, including by sending a large cohort of RSIPF officers to China.
The AFP spokesperson confirmed the vehicles funded in the budget were “in addition to the 13 recently announced” by Australia in its most recent donation to RSIPF.
“The number of vehicles is being scoped based on need and areas they are to be deployed,” they said.
The spokesperson also said the Mobile Protection Unit flagged in estimates was 2currently being scoped in collaboration with the RSIPF”.
“The composition and final model of the MPU is a matter for the RSIPF. AFP will aim to support the RSIPF in establishing the model,” they said.
The Minister for the Pacific Pat Conroy told RN Drive that the government wanted to “ramp up” training for the RSIPF but stressed it would be done “in a responsible way”.
“I’m not going to go into future discussions that would be inappropriate, but I’ll go from base principles: we are the security partner of choice for the Pacific, we do this because it’s in the interests of the Pacific and the interests of Australia,” he said.
“And we will never allow a vacuum to be created again, which occurred under the last government, which led to a dramatic deterioration of our relationships in the Pacific, and the diminishing of our national security,” he said.
SOURCE: ABC PACIFIC/PACNEWS