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Government Must Be Clear On Solomons Force

Government Must Be Clear On Solomons Force

ACT New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Defence Spokesman Ken Shirley today said that, while supporting New Zealand's contribution to the Pacific Forum force aimed at restoring law and order in the Solomon Islands, ACT was deeply concerned with the lack of resources to both our police and armed forces, and the impact that this deployment will have.

"It is clear that our South-West Pacific region is facing considerable tensions and, contrary to Prime Minister Helen Clark's assertion, we do not live in a `strategically benign' area," Mr Shirley said.

"There are serious and mounting tensions in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, in addition to the Solomons. Following recent elections, political stalemates exist in Tuvalu, Kiribati, Nauru and Niue. All these Pacific nations are experiencing slow and painful transitions from tradition tribal societies to open democratic nationhood within the global economy.

"It is clear that both the New Zealand police and our armed forces are under-resourced, and under-strengthed, to fulfil the increasing obligations that are being placed upon them.

"We now have 730 military personnel committed offshore and, with the replacement and support requirements, the total committed force is three times that number. The New Zealand army's career development is now three years behind schedule - largely because of the Timor commitment. Training has been on hold, and the attrition is up to 18 percent for some ranks.

"This Government has foolishly committed us to an $800 million expenditure on 105 Light Armoured Vehicles, which will be of no strategic use whatsoever in the Pacific. This lack of forward planning, and mis-match between hardware and personnel training, is appalling.

"ACT seeks an assurance from the Government, that the deployment of New Zealand police officers in the Solomons will not be at the expense of their ability to maintain law and order on the home front. I also urge the Government to increase the resources available to our armed forces, to enable them to undertake our regional commitments.

"It is also important for New Zealand to focus on an exit strategy from the Solomons, once the rule of law has been restored. It would be wrong for us to lock them into dependency, and we must give every encouragement for the Solomon Islanders to assume responsibility for their own governance at the earliest stage possible," Mr Shirley said.

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