28 Nov 2012

Return of contingent of NZ defence force soldiers from Solomons could be last

11:43 am on 28 November 2012

The New Zealand Defence Force is withdrawing this week what is expected to be the final contingent of soldiers participating in the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands.

The platoon is the 16th to be sent to the country since the Australian led force was deployed to restore peace after several years of civil conflict.

Annell Husband reports from Auckland's Whenuapai airbase.

"It's six years ago that RAMSI soldiers were last called on to quell election related rioting and to restore order in the capital Honiara. Since then the focus has been on strengthening the capability of the Royal Solomon Islands police force and to build the confidence of the public in its own law enforcers. At the same time the Solomon Islands Government has made no secret of its desire to reassume responsibility for maintaining law and order in its archipelago of more than 900 islands. RAMSI special co-ordinator Nicholas Coppel has said that the mission will remain in the Solomon Islands for at least four more years but it's widely believed that the time for withdrawal of the military component has come. The New Zealand Defence Force's land component commander Mark Wheeler says while there's no formal agreement to send the soldiers home for good and this latest return of service men is simply a routine rotation, he expects it will be the last. Brigadier Wheeler says the Australian parliament will make a formal decision on the issue in December and New Zealand's parliament will decide in March."