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Australian help well received in Solomons

Australian police and ADF personnel providing security in the Solomon Islands as rioting continues in the capital Honiara have reportedly been well received.

Senior federal minister Simon Birmingham says the contingent is likely to be deployed to Australia’s troubled Pacific near neighbour for a matter of weeks rather than months.

“At this very early stage our officials and forces on the ground are working hard to help to provide that restoration of peace,” he told reporters in Adelaide on Saturday.

“They are, I believe, a respected and welcome force on the ground by the people in the Solomon Islands.

“The work at present is to get that stability there.”

Solomon Islands police found three bodies in a burned-out building late on Friday after making more than a hundred arrests following rioting over the past several days.

Many of the protesters are said to resent the government over its 2019 decision to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish formal links with China.

Australia initially deployed 23 Australian Federal Police officers, including tactical response teams. An additional 50 agents and 43 ADF members have since been dispatched as well as a patrol boat.

Papua New Guinea has also sent 50 police.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said on Friday Australian forces had been armed with lethal and non-lethal weapons.

Save the Children’s Solomons country director Lisa Cuatt says there are strong fears for the safety and wellbeing of children following the destruction of Honiara High School and damage to other schools.

The organisation has 47 staff across four provinces in the country.

While there is no exact figure, an estimated 200 Australian citizens in total are in the country.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare imposed a lockdown in Honiara for 36 hours along with a curfew in a bid to quell the unrest, which ended on Friday morning.

He blames foreign powers for encouraging the unrest.

But Solomons Opposition Leader Matthew Wale has accused the government of taking bribes from China, saying people are protesting the current regime’s corruption.

Mr Birmingham refused to be drawn on the reasons for the unrest.

“We don’t wish to draw into the political commentary that relates to this,” he said.

“Our concern is for the people of the Solomon Islands and ensuring that they can enjoy the type of peace and security that they deserve.”

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