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John Roughan: More Questions Than Answers!

More Questions Than Answers!


By John Roughan
1 May 2006
Honiara

The recent burndown of Honiara's Chinatown raises a host of questions but few answers are coming out clearly. The initial 'official' response to the terrible events of Black Tuesday (18 April) is that authorities were caught off guard. Our police force and RAMSI personnel, so the story goes, were so tied down with the happenings up at Parliament House earlier that same afternoon that the Chinatown burn down came as a complete surprise. Our security forces were caught off guard, it is said.

But that 'story' doesn't stack up! At least two hours before the first smoke whispers rose in Chinatown's buildings and well after the troubles around Parliament House had ceased to worry, senior citizens were telephoning the proper authorities--Police Headquarters, Governor General. They informed them what was going to happen. The message was sent loudly and clearly: Chinatown was the mob's next target. Sir Henry Chan of QQQ, having been warned by a long time storeowner in the middle of Honiara's business sector, spoke directly to police authorities and warned them in no uncertain terms that a mob was moving towards Chinatown, it would be looted and even worse, could be burnt to the ground.

The Police response was curious! Sir Henry was informed that the police force was already overstretched and it was going to station its forces to protect Honiara's centre. Had such a decision been made with civilian concurrence? Who had made such a decision and under what authority? These are only a few of the questions that a properly set up a Commission of Inquiry must study.

Last month's riots were, unfortunately, not Honiara's first! Over the years we have experienced at least three separate serious disturbances. The first and most serious of the three (1989, 1993 and 1996), took place seventeen years ago--9-10 November 1989. Honiara suffered its first of three Youth Riots. Who can ever forget the Star newspapers' front page photo of dozens of youth jumping from the Mananiko River bridge to escape the police's tear gassing! 5,000+ young people had looted hundreds of thousands of dollars of goods from stores, shops and business premises.

But the most serious thing about the first riot was not the looting, stealing and general disturbance but the attempted march of almost 5,000 youths on the White River settlement, west of Honiara. Had it not been for the courageous police presence blocking the road near St. John's School to prevent the mob from ever reaching the White River area there would certainly have been serious bloodshed if not deaths. I had personally interviewed a number of the mob who quite proudly showed me their home-made bombs they were carrying to be used on White River people.

Unfortunately, not a single one of the three Youth Riots was ever properly investigated by a Commission of Inquiry to clarify basic questions. How exactly did the events spin out of control? Who--youths, young people, older ones--did most of the trouble? Were there other forces at work than simply bored and listless youth? Rather than a formal review of the dangerous incidents, each time immediately after the riot, the government reached for the cheque book, paid out public money for compensation and most importantly, swept all the hard questions under the carpet. This kind of response must not be repeated in the stupidity of the recent Chinatown Burnout!

If a quarter of a Wellington or a Canberra, New Zealand's and Australia's capital cities, had been fire bombed by a mob as has been Honiara's case, the government's first business would be to find out the facts. How could all this destruction happen right under the nose of RAMSI and the police? How much warning did our security forces have in the event? In the 1989 Youth Riot, a line of 20-25 police on the road near St. John's School had stopped a mob of 5,000. What could have been done with two dozen properly equipped police personnel lined up on the western side of the two Mataniko bridges last week?

We, the citizens of this nation, owe our Chinese brother and sister citizens who lost so much, some their very life's savings, at least to officially investigate what went so terribly wrong. Any official dry 'we're sorry' statement just won't do it! No, the newly elected government's first day in office must be to set up an official inquiry into the events leading up to the destruction of Chinatown. How much looting, stealing and burning came from sudden impulse or copy cat behavior and how much of it was planned and carefully put into action? Who was responsible for planning and orchestrating this crime?

But the Commission of Inquiry needs Honiara's people to step forward, give evidence and share what they know happened. Not all, not even most of Honiara, did the crime but some of us did. It's the work of the Commission to find out why Chinatown was targeted, who did the targeting and what charges must be laid against these criminals. If we simply sweep all of these happenings once again under the carpet as we did in our original Youth Riot in 1989, we will certainly be doomed to repeat them again. Let's get it right this time to insure it won't happen ever again.

ENDS

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