Australia sends help to Solomon Islands after rioters overrun police

Australia has sent help to the Solomon Islands after police were overrun during protests.
Australia has sent help to the Solomon Islands after police were overrun during protests. Photo credit: RNZ

Police in Solomon Islands were overrun as rioters and looters tore through the capital honiara.

One of our correspondents in Honiara, Elizabeth Osifelo, said exhausted police were overwhelmed as more people swarmed into town in defiance of a 36-hour lockdown.

Shops in Chinatown which had survived the earlier unrest were ransacked and burned and on the eastern side of town the Ranadi branch of Bank South Pacific was torched as was a locally owned and operated hardware store Island Enterprise.

Osifelo said police were doing everything they could to try and get control of the situation but they were outnumbered.

"It was all looting and just chaos. So there were a whole lot of people in the Chinatown area but there were still other locations around the eastern part of Honiara that has been really badly affected. A lot of businesses and a lot of buildings have been burned," she said.

Osifelo said the unrest has had a massive impact on law-abiding citizens and families in and around the capital who are now running low on food and basic necessities as well as utilities like power and water which are pre-paid services in Honiara.

"Families in and around Honiara were not prepared for the basic things such as cash power, cash water and just the basic food supplies at home so the situation is and will affect a lot of families in Honiara," she said.

Community rally to support police

In some parts of the city police numbers have been bolstered by law-abiding citizens.

Elizabeth Osifelo said attempts by rioters to ransack and burn a local police station in the Naha area were thwarted when residents came to the aid of police and drove the rioters away.

She said in the western part of the city citizens were helping to man barricades and supporting police to stop the looting.

Australia sending help

Australia is deploying Defence Force personnel and federal police to support local authorities in Solomon Islands.

The ABC reports prime minister Scott Morrison saying 23 officers from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) specialist response group were being deployed immediately.

A further 50 AFP officers would be deployed to support critical infrastructure on Friday as well as 43 Defence Force personnel.

Mr Morrison says the deployment is in response to a request from Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare made through the instruments of a security treaty signed with Australia in 2017.

This was the same year that the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands known as RAMSI, which helped restore law and order and rebuild the country after the bloody Ethnic Crisis of the late-nineties.