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Trouble in paradise: Aussie troops, cops and diplomats arrive to stabilise Solomons

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Australian police forces have arrived in the Solomon Islands to provide security in the region following days of rioting in the capital Honiara.

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Australia has deployed 23 Australian Federal Police officers, including tactical response teams to the Pacific island nation to help with stability.

An additional 50 AFP officers and 43 Australian Defence Force members will fly out to the country on Friday.

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

“Our role is to assist the Solomon Islands police force to restore law and public order as soon as we possibly can,” Andrews told ABC TV on Friday.

“This is a policing matter, not a military matter, so we are working very closely with the police force there.”

Andrews said Australia’s deployment was in response to a request for help from the Solomon Islands government under a bilateral security treaty.

“We are not there to intervene in any way in domestic matters,” Andrews said.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said it was likely the Australian deployment in the region would last for weeks.

While there was not an exact figure, she estimated there were 200 Australian citizens in the country.

“We will engage with them as we need to in terms of those who might wish to leave,” Senator Payne told ABC Radio.

“Importantly, the travel advice is very, very clear about avoiding demonstrations and protests.”

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.

The lockdown ended on Friday morning.

Sogavare has blamed foreign powers for encouraging the unrest in the country.

The widespread protests have largely started due to the island nation’s decision in 2019 to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China.

While MPs in the Solomon Islands have expressed concern Australian intervention could prop up support for Mr Sogavare, Senator Payne said Australia would not intervene in domestic politics.

“These are matters for them to resolve, we would of course encourage engagement and dialogue but it is not for us to pass any comment,” she said.

“There is a broad recognition that it is important to support the stability where we are able to do so.”

Pacific Minister Zed Seselja said the situation was challenging but that the government understood all Australians in the country were safe.

“(Australian forces) are going into a volatile situation but we’ve got the utmost confidence that they have the highest level of professionalism as they’re dealing with this,” he told ABC Radio.

“It is about restoring order, it is not about picking sides in any political processes.”

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