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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October, 2003, 07:07 GMT
Q&A: Crisis in the Solomons
The violence plaguing the Solomon Islands prompted Australia to lead a regional intervention force to try and restore law and order to the troubled archipelago.

BBC News Online looks at the events that made such radical action necessary.

What is the peacekeepers' mandate?

The troops and police have provided back-up to help the Solomon Islands security forces combat the large number of rebels and militiamen roaming the country.

Troops have been given the right to use reasonable force, and are immune from prosecution in relation to action taken in the course of their duties.

The mission was formally approved by both the Solomons Government and the islands' parliament.

Which countries make up the force?

Operation Helpem Fren - pidgin for "help a friend" - has been endorsed by the 16-nation Pacific Forum.

Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Samoa all agreed to make military and police contributions.

Australia has contributed the bulk of the 2,225-strong force.

It has sent an estimated 1,500 troops to the Solomons, together with 155 police and 90 protection officers.

Why is Australia so keen on the force?

Australia has often shied away from intervening in the affairs of its Pacific neighbours - a policy which dates back to the 1970s, when the islands began to gain independence.

Canberra wanted to avoid accusations of neo-colonialism, and concentrate on its own internal security.

But since the Bali bombings last October, and the 11 September attacks on the United States, Canberra has become increasingly worried about the threat posed by international terrorism.

Australia and its neighbours are concerned that the Solomons archipelago could become a haven for terrorists, drug dealers and money launderers.

The legacy of ignoring the plight of another impoverished Pacific island, Nauru, may also be influencing Canberra's decision.

Nauru - the world's smallest independent republic - has been accused by the United States of selling large numbers of fake passports and laundering billions of dollars for international gangs.

What is the current situation in the Solomons?

Violence has been rife, amid worries that the country was threatening to spiral into full-scale anarchy.

While the capital, Honiara, is relatively calm, the countryside has been wild and lawless.

Armed gangs and hostage-takers have roamed the country, and more than 30 people have already been killed this year, including an Australian missionary.

The violence has almost bankrupted the country's 450,000 inhabitants, most of whom live at subsistence level.

What has caused the violence?

Today's problems stem from long-term tensions between the Isatabu, the indigenous population of the main island, Guadalcanal, and the Malaitans from the neighbouring island of Malaita.

Both groups are ethnic Melanesians, but they share neither culture nor language.

Large numbers of Malaitans came to Guadalcanal in search of work, and came to dominate the economy, creating resentment.

Fighting broke out in 1998, when the rebel Isatabu Freedom Movement began to force Malaitans off their island. Around 20,000 people had to abandon their homes.

But a rival militia group, the Malaitan Eagle Force, teamed up with a large number of the country's police to stage a coup in June 2000, which forced the prime minister to resign.

An Australian-brokered peace deal called the Townsville accord was signed in October 2000, officially ending hostilities.

Why has the peace deal not worked?

After the peace deal had been signed, the government was largely left alone to implement its fledgling agreement.

A plea for further assistance from Canberra was denied, and a complete cessation of violence has never been fully achieved. Lawlessness and corruption have continued unabated.

The biggest threat to the government is probably an Isatabu militia leader, Harold Keke, who refused to recognise the peace deal.

He stands accused of killing a government minister last year, as well as being linked to a spate of other murders near his stronghold on Guadalcanal's Weather Coast.

He surrendered to the peacekeepers on 13 August, leading to hopes that the violence would soon be stopped.




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