29 Nov 2012

NZ and Tongan soldiers hand over in Solomons

10:15 pm on 29 November 2012

Haka from the Tongan and New Zealand soldiers serving under the Regional Assistance Mission (RAMSI) to Solomon Islands have completed a handover to their Papua New Guinean and Australian counterparts.

Top defence and RAMSI officials have confirmed no more soldiers will take part in the mission after next July.

"The Tongan marines performed what was described by the New Zealand Defence Force's land component commander as a powerful and symbolic haka, marking their handover to soldiers from PNG.

Brigadier Mark Wheeler told the assembled troops and officials that RAMSI's success in restoring security in Solomon Islands can be attributed to its regional composition, saying it's a Pacific Solution to a Pacific problem.

Members of New Zealand's 2nd/1st battalion peeled off their shirts for a performance of their own haka, leaving them on the ground to symbolise their willingness to return to Solomon Islands if needed.

RAMSI's deputy special co-ordinator, Wayne Higgins, said while it was "probably" the last rotation of New Zealand troops, several defence personnel would remain until the military mission formally ends next year.

"A lot of our development programs will transfer across to normal bilateral aid programs," Mr Higgins told Radio Australia.

He said the Solomon Islands was now generally "peaceful, stable and secure" but that there was still more work to be done.

The focus will shift to training and mentoring members of the Solomon Islands Police Force.

"RAMSI will remain a regional mission taking in all Pacific Island police forces to help the Solomon Island Police Force to build its capacity - and reach - across the country."