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Last Updated: Friday, 4 January 2008, 18:59 GMT
Building bridges in the Solomons
By Anna Jones
BBC News

Manasseh Sogavare
Mr Sogavare was accused of damaging the Solomons' reputation

In the last days of 2007, former Solomon Islands Attorney-General Julian Moti was arrested and put on a plane to Australia, to stand trial for child sex offences allegedly committed a decade ago.

His extradition, long-demanded by Australia, is being seen as a concerted attempt by the new prime minister, Derek Sikua, to repair the damage done to the Solomons' relationship with Australia.

Mr Sikua's predecessor, Manasseh Sogavare, had angered Australia over several issues before he was ousted in a vote of no confidence in mid-December.

Strengthening ties with neighbouring Australia is one way Mr Sikua hopes to aid the country's development.

But faced with lingering ethnic divisions and a struggling economy, will this be enough to enable the Solomons to enter a much-needed period of political and social stability?

Building confidence

Julian Moti
Mr Moti is an old friend of former prime minister Sogavare
The dispute over Mr Moti's extradition came to symbolise not only Mr Sogavare's somewhat belligerent approach to politics, but also the cronyism and elitism which analysts say has hampered the Solomons' political development in the past.

Prof Hassall from the University of the South Pacific says the resolution of the issue is an important step towards addressing standards of governance in the South Pacific.

"There is a perception in the region that political leaders sometimes escape legal obligations," he said.

"Any instance in which a high-profile political figure is brought before the law to answer charges... helps to build confidence in the efficacy of law in the South Pacific."

Mr Sogavare's support for Mr Moti was a major factor in his downfall, leading to accusations by his parliamentary colleagues of bringing the country into disrepute.

According to Sinclair Dinnen, an expert in Pacific issues at Australia National University, this objection to Mr Sogavare's actions showed that "the general public are no longer prepared to tolerate brazen corruption".

"The public expect a quality of governance and the delivery of services that they feel they are entitled to," he said.

Foreign forces

Australian police and military in the Solomon Islands - 20/4/06
Ramsi is credited with restoring law and order in the Solomons

One of the groups that is helping to improve the situation is the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (Ramsi), an Australian-dominated coalition of 15 Pacific countries.

It was originally deployed in 2003, when the actions of heavily-armed rebel groups threatened to devastate the Solomons, but has remained in the country ever since to help develop economic stability and infrastructure.

Mr Sogavare made no attempt to hide his dislike of certain aspects of Ramsi, and his government accused Australia of acting like a regional bully.

As long as they are dependent on Ramsi it will be difficult for them to move on independently
Sue Farran, Dundee University

But with new governments installed in both the Solomons and Australia, there will almost certainly be a fresh focus on Ramsi's role in the future.

While many in the Solomons welcome the mission's presence, others have concerns that it could lead to a dangerous culture of dependency.

"Continuing Australian interference in the Solomon Islands cannot be a good thing in the long run," said Sue Farran, an expert in Pacific islands law from Dundee University.

"As long as they are dependent on Ramsi it will be difficult for them to move on independently."

Ethnic unease

Heavily armed rebels in a jungle camp near Honiara, Solomon Islands (June 2000)
Tensions are rife between rival ethnic groups

With or without Ramsi's assistance, Mr Sikua's government has many enduring and deep-rooted problems to be resolved, not least that of tensions between rival ethnic groups.

Prof Hassall says that although there has been no overt internal conflict in recent years, "neither has there been a full resolution of the issues causing grievance in the country."

Fundamental issues remain unaddressed, he said, including the right of Solomon Islanders to migrate to the wealthiest island, Guadalcanal.

Other provinces have seen little economic development and remain poor and isolated, with little mobility, either literal or social.

The lack of income has forced rural islanders to accept the advances of illegal logging companies, which have stripped some areas of valuable timber and devastated the landscape.

If Mr Sikua and his administration are to prevent a repeat of the ethnic violence of the past they must, say observers, tackle the uneven spread of resources and services.

Uncertain future

Map

The situation is far from bleak, though.

The Solomon Islands have many natural resources and a youthful population with which to manage them.

The handover of power from Mr Sogavare to Mr Sikua happened without violence - a positive sign of future stability, although there are concerns that it was only Ramsi that kept the lid on unrest.

"Whether things are looking good for the Solomons in the future is a fairly difficult question," says Mr Dinnen.

"Diplomatically things will improve. New governments in Australia and Solomon Islands will try to mend relations, but whether things get implemented on the ground is another story."

SEE ALSO
Solomons ex-law chief extradited
27 Dec 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Solomon Islands elects new leader
20 Dec 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Solomon Islands PM ousted in vote
13 Dec 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Solomons vote over PM withdrawn
10 Aug 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Tensions ahead of Solomons vote
09 Aug 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Solomon Islands
13 Dec 07 |  Country profiles

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