New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday ordered police and troops to join an international peacekeeping mission in the crisis-hit Solomon Islands following deadly anti-government riots.
Ardern said the deployment of 65 peacekeepers followed a request from the Solomons government, which was almost toppled during the unrest that claimed at least three lives and reduced much of downtown Honiara – the country’s capital – to smouldering rubble.
She said an initial force of 15 New Zealand personnel would set off Thursday and another 50 would join them over the weekend.
The New Zealand leader said they would work with Solomons police and about 200 peacekeepers already on the ground in Honiara from Australia, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea.
“We are deeply concerned by the recent civil unrest and rioting in Honiara, and… we have moved quickly to provide urgent assistance to help restore sustained peace and security,” Ardern said in a statement.
The crisis erupted last week when protests over government policies turned violent, fuelled by poverty, unemployment, and inter-island rivalries in the nation of 800,000.
Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is set to face a no-confidence motion filed by the opposition on Monday, providing another potential flashpoint for unrest.
After trying to storm parliament, mobs ran amok for three days, torching much of Honiara’s Chinatown area and attempting to burn down Sogavare’s home.
Calm was restored after Australian troops and police rushed to Honiara in response to Sogavare’s desperate plea to Canberra for help.
Ardern said the New Zealanders were well equipped to deal with dangerous situations.
“Every deployment brings its risks and challenges but our people have vast experience in the Pacific region and are amongst some of the most highly skilled when it comes to de-escalating conflict,” she said.
New Zealand took part in the last Australian-led peacekeeping mission in the Solomons, which stretched from 2003-17.
Officials in Canberra insist the current deployment will only last “a matter of weeks” and that its focus is on policing, not intervening in the Solomons’ political situation.
An uneasy peace has prevailed in Honiara since Saturday, with residents cleaning up the streets but authorities wary of more violence flaring up and aid agencies expressing concern about food shortages.
Many staples are sourced from Chinese-owned stores in the capital, but they have closed down or been destroyed after being burned by rioters.
The Chinese community was targeted partly due to the government’s decision to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019, a move that angered some communities in the aid-dependent nation.