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NZers Witness Local Reaction To Australian Troops

NZers Witness Local Reaction To Australian Troop Arrival

Media Release: Honiara, Solomon Islands


New Zealanders witness local reaction to Australian troop arrival in the Solomon Islands.

"The soldiers are coming to bless us," said Chris Douglas aged 2. "Here they come, but where is the war zone? There is no war zone," was another reaction of Solomon Islanders at Henderson Airport, Honiara, early in the morning of 24 July as the first of eight or more planes bringing the Intervention Force touched down.

CWS National Director, Jill Hawkey, and Projects Coordinator, Elizabeth Mackie, have been visiting CWS partners in the Solomon Islands. They joined hundreds of Solomon Islanders to watch the arrival. The contrast between a 2-year-old boy, waving hello from his mother's arms, and the stony-faced Australian military personnel carrying machine guns raised many questions about the incongruities of this style of intervention.

Watching the young military men fan out and disappear into the bush opposite the airfield provoked "Bizarre, isn't it" from a Reuters' correspondent standing near. We had to agree. Bizarre it was to watch the Australian army photographer set up a shot of a young uncomfortable looking solider shaking hands with three pre-school Solomon Islanders. Bizarre to see senior Australian personnel carefully check the papers of a group of Fijian soldiers while the locals called out "Hula Hula."

"We have heard no resistance from the local people to the intervention" said Jill Hawkey. "In fact they welcome it. Local people do want to see the collection and disposal of weapons, a trustworthy police force and a process to bring to justice criminal elements in the society. 'We want things to be normal again,' was a statement we heard often."

However, there are grave concerns about the uncertain length and style of the interventions and the impact of large numbers of foreign military in the country. Some anger has been expressed about the inclusions of troops from Fiji and Papua New Guinea. It is seen as insulting, when these countries, "Do not have their own houses in order."

Another area of concern is the yet unclear role of a large number of Australians who will take up jobs in the Solomon Islands civil service, when many well-qualified Solomon Islander graduates are seeking employment in Honiara.

After two hours standing in the hot sun, the crowds moved backed from the perimeter fence to the shade of the trees. But still they stayed. As one young man said "I had to come to see this. I might never see it again in my life."

Jill Hawkey will be available for interviews from Honiara.

Contact Liz Martyn 03 366 9274 or 021 238 7710 for further information

CWS is the Development, Justice & Aid Agency of the Conference of Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand (CCANZ)

Liz Martyn Communications Manager Christian World Service PO Box 22-652 Christchurch, New Zealand ph: (03) 366 9274 fax (03) 365 2919

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