A small contingent of Australian forces and DFAT personnel will be deployed to the Solomon Islands amid ongoing civil unrest in Honiara.
Late on Thursday evening, Scott Morrison joined with foreign minister Marise Payne and minister for the Pacific Zed Seslja to announce 40 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel would be deployed to Honiara following a request for assistance by Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare.
The Australian troops from the Army’s 3rd Brigade, 6th Brigade and 17th Brigade left Townsville on Friday, with another ADF aircraft carrying Australian Federal Police and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) personnel also flying out before the weekend.
The Australian prime minister said that the ADF would assist the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force in establishing ‘stability and security’ in order for ‘normal constitutional processes’ to take place.
“It is not the Australian government’s intention in any way to intervene in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands; that is for them to resolve,” Morrison said.
“I’ve made that very clear. Our presence there does not indicate any position on the internal issues of the Solomon Islands.”
Two flights have already left Australia carrying AFP forces and equipment, and there will be a third flight over the weekend, the PM said. The deployment is expected to last a matter of weeks. Australia will also dispatch a patrol boat to the Solomon Islands to support patrolling in the region.
Schools and businesses have shut amid escalating violence from protests in Solomon Islands, in response to a government decision to cut ties with Taiwan and establish a formal relationship with China. Reports have also been made that protestors are angry about a lack of promised development.
On Wednesday, a curfew was announced in Honiara as protesters attempted to enter the parliament. An overnight lockdown in the capital was announced until 7am on Friday 26 November, and Australians who are in the Solomon Islands have been advised to stay put and avoid any crowds.
“We have been watching the ongoing protests in Honiara with concern,” Morrison said in a joint statement.
“We continue to call for calm, for an end to any further violence and emphasise the importance of resolving tensions peacefully.”
— Marise Payne (@MarisePayne) November 25, 2021
Addressing the press pack on Thursday, Payne said that at least five public servants from DFAT would supplement High Commission staff and ADF airlift support.
“Their role is to support the existing presence at post in Honiara and to work with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force as they normally would and with the AFP contingent, and to assist in whatever way they’re able to,” Payne said.
“I can advise that the Australian mission in Honiara remains operational, that all staff and families are safe and they are supporting the government in the provision of information about events as they unfold,” she added.
The Australian troops have been deployed to the Solomon Islands under a 2017 bilateral security treaty, which allows for Australian police, defence and associated civilian personnel to deploy rapidly to Solomon Islands if the need arises and where both countries consent.
“Our Pacific family is very dear to us as Australians. It’s very dear to us and we have always been there to help our Pacific family when they have needed us. And this is such a time,” Morrison said.
“We believe in their sovereignty. We believe in their self-determination and we believe in them being able to resolve these issues and to advance in accordance with their constitutional processes and their democracies. And we want to support them to be able to do this.”