22 Sep 2016

Solomons and Australia consider future security

3:46 pm on 22 September 2016

The prime ministers of Solomon Islands and Australia have met in New York to discuss security arrangements between the two countries.

Meeting on the margins of the UN General Assembly, Manasseh Sogavare and Malcolm Turnbull talked over what will happen after the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), departs in June next year.

The Prime Minister of Solomon Islands Manasseh Sogavare

The Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare speaking at the United Nations Photo: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

Mr Turnbull reiterated Australia's willingness to continue its policing engagement with Solomon Islands and both leaders considered the idea of maintaining an Australian as Commissioner of the Royal Solomon Islands Police after RAMSI leaves.

The position is currently held by Frank Prendergast, a former member of the Australian Federal Police.

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Solomons Police Chief Frank Prendergast, (foreground). Photo: RNZI Koroi Hawkins

All commissioners since the ethnic crisis have been foreigners with the last two, John Lansley and Peter Marshall, coming from England and New Zealand respectively.

Periods of vacancy between the last three postings, however, were filled by Solomon Islanders in acting roles, sparking debates locally about the merits of having a local police chief.

Speaking to his Australian counterpart the Solomon Islands prime minister acknowledged there were qualified local officers who could take up the role.

New graduates from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force Academy. December 2015

New graduates from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force Academy. December 2015 Photo: RNZI Courtesy of RSIPF

But he said this had to be balanced against consideration of issues that gave rise to the period of civil unrest at the turn of the century.

These include the ethnic nature of the civil unrest which stemmed from conflict between the people of Guadalcanal and Malaita.

Photo taken on the 20th of July 2003. A militiaman loyal to renegade warlord Harold Keke guards the church where hostages Father Peter Kesimo, Father Alfred Tabo and Father Benjamin Kunu are being held in the Guadalcanal Liberation Front stronghold of Mbiki on the remote Weather Coast.

Photo taken on the 20th of July 2003 just before the arrival of RAMSI. A militiaman loyal to renegade warlord Harold Keke guards a church where hostages are being held. Photo: AFP PHOTO/Ben BOHANE

The latter province is the most populous in the country while the former hosts the capital Honiara and has expressed a desire to have it relocated elsewhere.

In the past 41 years only three of the 12 Commissioners of Police have been Solomon Islanders.

Apart from the UK and New Zealand, Australia and Fiji have also provided police chiefs for the country.

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Photo: RNZI Koroi Hawkins