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Last Of Defence Personnel Return From The Solomons

MEDIA STATEMENT

For Immediate Release 26 June 2002

LAST OF DEFENCE PERSONNEL RETURN FROM THE SOLOMONS

(See also... Images: NZ Leaves Solomon Islands )

The last remaining New Zealand Defence personnel from the International Peace Monitoring Team in the Solomon Islands will be returning home.

Over 400 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel have deployed to the Australian led mission, named Operation Minerva, since it began in October 2000. The NZDF’s contribution has involved deployment of Royal New Zealand Navy Ships as well as small numbers of personnel on the ground.

Fighting began in the Solomon Islands about three years ago between the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) and the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) over ethnic and land ownership issues.

As a result of external mediation the Townsville Peace Agreement (TPA), signed on 15 October 2000, led to a suspension of fighting.

Under the TPA, all sides agreed to the establishment of a Peace Monitoring Council and an International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT) being sent to assist with confidence building among the parties to the agreement, and wider population. The Australian-led IPMT was authorised to receive and monitor the safe custody of arms and explosives, as well as promote and instil confidence in the peace process through its presence and interaction with the people.

The IPMT consisted of personnel from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), Australian Federal Police (AFP), New Zealand Police, Pacific Police forces, the Australian Defence Force (ADF), and the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).

The IPMT was also responsible for monitoring, observing and reporting on acts that could constitute a breach of the Townsville Peace Agreement. The team provided reports to the indigenous Peace Monitoring Council on incidents, developments and progress implementing the peace agreement.

Other notable achievements of the mission include the support provided to general elections held in December 2001 coupled with significant success in supporting the Solomon Islands Government Arms Amnesty. Since then, the Solomon Islands’ government has authorised and initiated a weapons destruction programme.

When HMNZS MANAWANUI replaced HMAS CANBERRA in October 2001 and returned to NZ in February 2002, it ended what was a significant contribution from the New Zealand Navy. HMNZ Ships TE MANA and TE KAHA had also provided support to the peace process rotating with ships from the Royal Australian Navy.

The contributing countries provided civilians, unarmed military personnel and police officers experienced in peace monitoring. The New Zealand Defence Force provided a deputy leader of the IPMT, an operations officer, armourers, suppliers, medics, and communications staff.

Chief of Defence Force, Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson said today “All New Zealand personnel who have worked with the IMPT have done a superb job in the most trying circumstances over an extended period. Their contributions have maintained the high professional standards demonstrated by the NZDF during more than 50 years of peace support operations. The NZDF will continue to contribute to New Zealand’s efforts to assist the Solomon Islands in restoring law and order and working towards a lasting peace”.

ENDS

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