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NZ assistance to Solomon Islands Government

NZ assistance to Solomon Islands Government

New Zealand today outlined a contribution of police, military personnel and enhanced aid to assist the Solomon Islands government.

Subject to the passage of legislation in the Solomons, the deployment of New Zealand personnel is likely to be staged from late July to late August.

"Ministers with Power to Act talked by teleconference last night and approved a New Zealand contribution to meet the Solomon Islands' request for outside assistance to restore the rule of law and help it get back on its feet," Foreign Minister Phil Goff said.

Police Minister George Hawkins said 35 Police officers, including the 10 officers currently in the Solomons, would be deployed for two years, although there may be some phased reduction in numbers over that period.

Defence Minister Mark Burton said 105 Defence Force personnel would be deployed in support. The contingent will consist of four helicopters and associated personnel; headquarters support staff, logistics, communications, an engineering element and a small medical group. An infantry company will also be placed on standby to assist if required.

Aid Minister Marian Hobbs said New Zealand would increase assistance to the Solomons by $6 million this year to $14 million, and may spend more in following years. The increased assistance will not impact on bilateral aid to other Pacific countries.

Mr Goff said reports from the Solomons indicated there was overwhelming public support for outside assistance.

"We will endeavour to provide that assistance, as we have previously done in the Pacific in East Timor and Bougainville, in a way that maintains and builds upon that pubic support. Our goal is not to take responsibility from the Solomons government but to help them rebuild their capacity and institutions.

"There is as always some risk element in such a deployment but current reports from Honiara are that it is calm and that violent confrontation is not expected. However, contingency plans must and will provide for all eventualities."

Mr Hawkins said New Zealand police were willing to play their part in assisting the Solomons.

"Police have shown they are ready to take this opportunity to help ensure stability returns to the region," Mr Hawkins said.

"New Zealand will contribute to community policing, investigations and intelligence as part of a Police force that may total as many as 250 officers. The largest contingent will come from Australia, with other Pacific countries such as Samoa and PNG also likely to contribute.

"Full funding for this deployment will allow the positions of deployed staff to be backfilled and will minimise the impact on New Zealand policing capability," Mr Hawkins said.

Mr Burton said the NZDF was ideally suited to make a significant support contribution in the Solomon Islands.

"Our people already have a wide range of experience in such diverse situations as the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Bougainville, and Timor Leste. Both the Solomons’ central government and local civil leaders have clearly expressed that such a contribution will be very welcome.

"New Zealand is well placed to offer the kind of non-combat elements necessary to support the police contingent. Our personnel will play a key role in facilitating civil and humanitarian assistance, providing helicopter transport, engineers for refurbishment of facilities, and medical staff who will work to re-establish community level medical support.

"New Zealand’s service men and women have an international reputation for excellence, and I have every confidence in their ability to successfully undertake this demanding task. I know they will acquit themselves with the same high level of honour and professionalism the NZDF is known for," Mr Burton said.

Marian Hobbs said the assistance required by the Solomon Islands was too big for any one donor and New Zealand would work with AusAID, the European Union and international financial institutions to ensure the Solomons' long-term recovery.

"Our first priority will be to support basic education, the lack of which is a root cause of poverty. This will include paying teacher salaries to ensure schools can function. We'll also be considering what primary schools need in the way of facilities and materials.

"An educated community is important to promoting sustainable economic development.

"We will also provide technical, budgetary and training assistance for the Solomon Islands Police and the justice system, including $2 million towards the completion of the prison, and contribute towards improved governance and public sector reform."

Mr Goff said New Zealand's commitment followed a formal request from the Solomons Islands Cabinet, conveyed by the Governor-General Sir John Lapli, and backed up by a unanimous resolution last week from the Solomon Islands parliament.

"It also follows unanimous agreement by Foreign Ministers at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Sydney a fortnight ago that assistance should be given to the Solomons under the Biketawa Declaration of the Forum. This established a procedure for member countries to respond to any crisis situation with the region.

"Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon has conveyed his support for a regional response to the situation in the Solomons. The UN Department of Political Affairs has also indicated it will respond positively.

"The deployment now awaits the passage of legislation to be introduced today in the Solomon Islands Parliament, which will empower outside police officers and military personnel to carry out their duties and give immunity for actions carried out in the course of their duties.

"Forum leaders will also consider the resolution passed by foreign ministers, which is being referred to them for their endorsement.

"The NZ Parliament has already debated making a New Zealand contribution in response to the Solomon Islands Government’s request, and there was support for NZ responding positively to it from all sides of the House," Mr Goff said.

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