Australian peacekeepers in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017

 

After longstanding tensions between competing ethnic groups intensified in 1998, Solomon Islands fell into armed chaos and anarchy.

At the request of the Solomon Islands Government, Australia led 2 multinational peacekeeping missions in 2000 and 2003 to end the violence and restore law and order. A mix of military, police and civilian personnel deployed from Australia, New Zealand and 13 other countries from the Pacific region.

Australian troops withdrew in 2013 after 10 years of peacekeeping service, while police and civilian personnel remained until 2017.

Ethnic tension in Solomon Islands

Solomon Islands is a nation of almost 1,000 islands in the South-West Pacific. With a population under 600,000, most of its inhabitants live on the 2 main islands of Malaita and Guadalcanal. The nation's capital, Honiara, is located on the largest island, Guadalcanal.

After World War II, many Malaitans resettled on Guadalcanal, seeking greater opportunities in Honiara. Combined with rising unemployment and a decline in government services, this fuelled existing tensions with the local Gwale people who claimed indigenous rights to the land.

The Gwale wanted more autonomy to control immigration to the island and the sale and use of land. They also wanted a greater share of government revenues. In late 1998, militant Gwale youths banded together to force Malaitan settlers in Guadalcanal to return to Malaita. They called themselves the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA), later changing their name to the Istabu Freedom Movement (IFM).

Five men stand in a line on the side of a road holding up semiautomatic rifles, and one with ammunition draped around his neck, as they watch a truck pass by

Well-armed guerrillas soldiers, members of the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) in Solomon Islands, stop vehicles at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Honiara. Photograph by Ben Bohane, c June 2000. AWM P04580.007

Escalating violence

The following year, the GRA attacks on Malaitans living on Guadalcanal ramped up, forcing around 20,000 Malaitans to flee their homes. In response, Malaitan militants formed the Malaita Eagle Force. Supported by a group of Malaitan police, they erected roadblocks and checkpoints to search cars for weapons.

There were attacks and counterattacks on both sides. Local businesses and homes were looted and torched. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force was not equipped to deal with the escalating violence. With the security situation deteriorating in Honiara, the Solomon Islands police commissioner declared a state of emergency on 15 June 1999.

Australia, New Zealand and the UK agreed to finance a regional police monitoring group called the Commonwealth Multinational Police Peace Monitoring Group. Led by a former senior Fijian police officer, the group of 25 unarmed police officers from Fiji and Vanuatu had a mandate to collect weapons and monitor and report on law and order.

The mission succeeded in lifting the state of emergency and was extended until the end of January 2000. However, the IFM (formerly the GRA) and Malaita Eagle Force refused to disarm or take part in any peace process, and tensions remained high. Early in the new year, Malaita Eagle Force raided the Solomon Islands Police armoury in Auki, the capital of Malaita. Armed with new semiautomatic weapons, they issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, demanding SI$23 million in compensation.

7 men stand and crouch in front of a laundry-laiden wooden construction amongst tropical vegetation, wearing masks, hats and balaclavas and holding rifles and other guns

Masked and armed Malaita Eagles Force (MEF) guerrillas gather on the outskirts of Honiara, Solomon Islands. This was the first time they had been openly photographed by overseas media; however, they all wore masks, balaclavas or scarves to protect their identities. Photograph by Ben Bohane, c June 2000. Australian peacekeepers served in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017. AWM P04580.019

The Solomon Islands coup, June to July 2000

Malaita Eagle Force carried out its threatened attack on the government at 4 am on 5 June 2000. A group of armed men stormed the home of Prime Minister Ulufa'alu, taking him hostage. Another group of rogue police and Malaitan militants took control of the government armoury and the Solomon Islands Police headquarters in Honiara. With access to an arsenal of modern weapons, Malaita Eagle Force declared it had seized control of the nation's capital. Ulufa'alu resigned the next day in exchange for his release.

Windows and doors of a basic shopfront blocked with corrugated iron and padlocked shut. A sign above the door says RX SHOP and shows a postal address in Honiara

During a period of political unrest in Solomon Islands, shops in Honiara were closed and boarded up. Graffiti on the door of the shop reads, "EVIL TOWN. HALLOWIN IS COMING FOR YOU". Militant groups on Guadalcanal used graffiti to their mark territory and instil fear. Photograph by Ben Bohane, c June to July 2000. Australian peacekeepers served in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017. AWM P04580.014

As news of the coup reached Australia, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) was put on alert to evacuate Australian nationals from Solomon Islands. HMAS Tobruk, on its way from Bougainville to Vanuatu, was diverted to Honiara. On 10 June, it sailed the 72-hour voyage back to Cairns with 486 evacuees on board, including 156 children.

The Australian Government agreed to send an infantry force to protect the ongoing evacuation. HMAS Manoora set off for Honiara with a 317-strong army detachment as part of Operation Plumbob. The ADF evacuated a total of 1,065 expatriate Australians and other foreign nationals between 8 and 24 June 2000.

A rocky road to peace

By the end of June, a new Solomon Islands government had been elected and compensation was paid to Malaita Eagle Force. However, the IFM refused to recognise the new government due to the coup and compensation payment. The Malaita Eagle Force continued its campaign of violence and intimidation against the Gwale people, attacking IFM militants.

Australian and New Zealand foreign ministers visited Honiara from 10 to 11 June 2000 to encourage peace negotiations between the Solomon Islands Government and militant groups. HMAS Tobruk returned to serve as a neutral venue for preliminary peace talks. These talks led to establishing the Ceasefire Monitoring Committee. A ceasefire agreement was eventually signed by all parties. This was partly in thanks to Australian naval personnel who managed to get the final 3 signatures needed after heading out in inflatable boats to infiltrate a Gwale militia stronghold in eastern Honiara.

The crisis in Solomon Islands had been averted, if only temporarily. Operation Plumbob wrapped up on 10 August 2000, and HMAS Tobruk returned to Australia. Plans were made for a peace conference in Townsville, following the success of New Zealand's Bougainville peace talks in Burnham in 1997 and Lincoln University in 1998. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) flew 130 representatives to RAAF Base Townsville in Australia. After 6 days of talks, the Townsville Peace Agreement was signed on 15 October 2000.

A multinational mission

The Solomon Islands Government had initially asked for the deployment of a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force, but the UN was reluctant to get involved. The UN was wary of getting caught up in a drawn-out military occupation and displacing the local police.

In an effort to ensure security in the region, Australia went on to lead 2 regional peacekeeping missions to Solomon Islands.

International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT) 2000 to 2002

3 male peacekeepers with backpacks stand in front of a thatched grass hut and tropical vegetation with men and boys from a local village, many of whom are barefoot and holding guns

Members of the International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT) with locals at Kolotina Village. Photograph by Senior Sergeant Neale Hammond, 2001. Australian peacekeepers served in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017. AWM P03680.031

As part of the Townsville Peace Agreement, an Australian-led, unarmed regional monitoring group called the International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT) was established for a 2-year term. Its main tasks were to supervise the disposal of weapons, control stored weapons, and report on breaches of law and order. Focused primarily on the 2 main provinces of Malaita and Guadalcanal, the IPMT did not have a policing or enforcement role.

Australia agreed to an initial 6-month deployment starting in early November 2000. Australian and New Zealand diplomats, ADF and Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) officials, as well as Australian Federal Police (AFP) and New Zealand Police officers, made up the IPMT. Cook Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu police officers joined later.

The IPMT established a 30-day gun amnesty, which was extended until mid-December 2000. A total of 800 guns was collected. However, despite the promising start, the situation in Solomon Islands continued to deteriorate into 2001. It became clear the IPMT was losing public support and was no longer effective. Militants were unwilling to disarm, and corrupt local polices were contributing to the tension. The peace process and weapons disposal had stalled.

The IPMT came to a close on 27 June as the last of the regional IPMT monitors left Solomon Islands.

Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) 2003 to 2017

A woman in army combat uniform with a rifle slung across her back hands flyers to a group of female villagers outside a wooden building with young children

Captain Rachel Leal of 1st Intelligence Battalion, Australian Army, discusses a flyer being read by a local woman at Sisifiu village, in the north of Malaita. It states: 'Police need evidence, not rumours, to put criminals where they belong. Report crimes to police'. This is a reference to the investigation into crimes committed by former militant members, such as Jimmy ‘Rasta’ Lusibaea, leader of the Malaitan Eagle Force, and some police officers, on the islands of Guadalcanal and Malaita. Lusibaea was arrested on 15 October 2003. Photograph by official war artist Stephen Dupont, 5 November 2003. Australian peacekeepers served in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017. AWM P04225.209

On 22 April 2003, following further outbreaks of violence and under threat from armed extortionists, the Solomon Islands Government again reached out to Australia to intervene. By this point, it was becoming clear to Australia that unarmed peacekeeping in Solomon Islands was not enough and a more assertive show of force was required.

In late June, the Australian Government established the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). RAMSI was a partnership between Solomon Islands, Australia, New Zealand and 13 countries of the South-West Pacific region. The aim of the mission was to help Solomon Islands restore peace and lay foundations for stability, security and prosperity.

By early September, Australia had a regional and military coalition force of around 2,000 personnel supporting 200 RAMSI police and 50 AFP protective service officers. A landmark difference was that the operation was civilian-led, headed by an experienced senior Australian diplomat, Nick Warner. RAMSI was a policing operation with ADF support.

The RAMSI mission was codenamed Operation Helpem Fren, Pijin for ‘Helping Friend', while the codename of the ADF contribution to RAMSI was Operation Anode.

The first major step for RAMSI was to disarm the militants. The next step was to address better land management on Guadalcanal and compensation payments, the 2 main underlying causes of the ethnic tension. Until these issues had been addressed and young men on both sides no longer had access to guns, lasting peace was unlikely.

A man in army uniform and protective goggles kneels on wooden board piled with rifles and holds a blowtorch, in front of a large crowd of people, including a photographer taking a photo of him

In the football stadium at Honiara, Solomon Islands, an Australian soldier destroys weapons before a crowd of locals who have been cordoned off behind a rope. Photograph by war correspondent Tim Page, 24 August 2003. Australian peacekeepers served in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017. AWM P04959.032

Another nationwide gun amnesty was announced. The collected weapons were destroyed publicly by ADF personnel in front of large crowds. A total of 3,730 weapons were handed in, including 700 military-style weapons and over 300,000 rounds of ammunition. Unlike their IPMT counterparts, RAMSI police officers had the powers to gather evidence, arrest, detain and charge individuals. The focus was on investigating and prosecuting criminals, militants and corrupt police. As arrests of key militant leaders were made, community confidence in the mission grew.

The Honiara Riots, April 2006

The Honiara Riots that followed the general elections in April 2006 were the first since the arrival of RAMSI in 2003. A largely Malaitan crowd had gathered outside the parliament to protest the new prime minister. Violence soon escalated into an angry riot with the crowd throwing rocks at police and burning cars and local businesses.

Contingents from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji soon arrived to restore law and order. In August, the Australian Government agreed that Australia's military and police commitment to peacekeeping in Solomon Islands should continue until local police were able to maintain law and order themselves.

This meant that RAMSI would remain in place for the time being. Ensuring Solomon Islands could securely self-govern was the next long-term goal of the mission. This goal would take more than 10 years to achieve. Thousands of police, military and civilian personnel from across the region have since served with RAMSI, working closely alongside Solomon Islanders.

2 female police officers speak with 2 male villagers, watched by an armed male soldier in army combat uniform and 6 young children, with a thatched hut and a 2-storey house in the background

Three members of Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) talk with local people at Rufoki village in northern Malaita. Left to right: Private Rubens of 12 Platoon, D Company, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR), an unidentified Royal Solomon Islands Police officer and an unidentified Senior Sergeant with the New Zealand Police (badge number H207) talking to 8 local people. Photograph by official war photographer Stephen Dupont, 5 November 2003. Australian peacekeepers served in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017. AWM P04225.270

Australians in Solomon Islands

A man with grey hair and a grey moustache and wearing civilian clothing sits on a wooden bench in front of a crowd of children and adults who are standing

Australian diplomat Nick Warner, of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Special Coordinator of Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), at a public information meeting in the village of Rame’ai in northern Malaita. He is wearing a flower garland presented by local children. Photograph by official war photographer Stephen Dupont, 11 November 2003. Australian peacekeepers served in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017. AWM P04225.653

An experienced Australian diplomat and former high commissioner to Papua New Guinea, Nick Warner was appointed the first Special Coordinator of RAMSI. Warner headed Operation Helpem Fren from July 2003 to August 2004.

A man in civilian clothes addressing a large crowd of people gathered under the roof of a shelter

Australian diplomat Nick Warner, of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Special Coordinator of Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), addresses a crowd of local people during a public information meeting at Rame’ai village in northern Malaita, a region that had experienced violence and unrest due to the activities of armed militants. Photograph by official war photographer Stephen Dupont, 11 November 2003. Australian peacekeepers served in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017. AWM P04225.647

Colonel Brian Dawson was deployed to Solomon Islands in late 2002 as commander of the ADF contingent of the IPMT. A senior military advisor, Dawson provided advice to Australia's high commissioner and the leader of the IPMT. Other senior military advisors came after Dawson on 6-month rotations.

It's quite easy to get caught up in asking why are we here, and saying it's all broken and it's hopeless, and there's no way out of it. But the role of the commander is to encourage and inspire, and to get people to focus on the job they need to be doing, rather than worrying about the grand strategic picture.

[Colonel Brian Dawson, interviewed for The Memorial, Australian War Memorial]

Reflecting on his experience, Dawson said:

One of the most encouraging things in the Solomons though was that at the end of January the schools automatically started. It wasn't because the government had done anything. It was because mothers of the Solomon Islands had arranged teachers, and cleaned out the school houses, and got the pencils and the chalk and sent their kids off to school. And that was encouraging.

[Colonel Brian Dawson, interviewed for The Memorial, Australian War Memorial]

Withdrawal

After a decade of peacekeeping in Solomon Islands, the security situation stabilised in 2013. The final Australian troops returned to Australia on 1 August 2013 and RAMSI became solely a policing mission in the Solomon Islands. A team of AFP officers remained on duty to train and support local police officers. The RAMSI mission officially ended on 30 June 2017.

A soldier's arm in an army combat uniform waving from a vehicle as it drives along a dirt road and passes 4 smiling children who wave back.

Australian Defence Force personnel wave to villagers on the road to the Gold Ridge Mine. Photograph by official war photographer Glenn Campbell, 14 March 2009. Australian peacekeepers served in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017. AWM P08837.037

Commemoration

3 floral wreaths laid against a memorial with 4 small plaques near palm trees

Wreaths laid at a memorial located at Guadalcanal Beach Resort, dedicated to the military and police force casualties of Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Photograph by eX de Medici, March 2009. Australian peacekeepers served in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017. AWM P11527.066

Three Australians lost their lives while serving in the RAMSI peacekeeping force in Solomon Islands.

Adam Dunning, an AFP protective service officer, died in December 2004. He was awarded 4 posthumous medals for his service and sacrifice for Australia and the Pacific region.

Private Jamie Michael Clark, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), died in March 2005. His name is recorded with other members of the Australian armed forces on the national Roll of Honour[Australian War Memorial].

Ronald Edwin Lewis, an AFP protective service officer, died in December 2010.

National Peacekeepers' Day

On 14 September each year, we observe National Peacekeepers' Day. It's the anniversary of the day Australia became the world's first peacekeepers to deploy into the field, in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) in 1947. It's a day to recognise the important work of those who have served, and continue to serve, in the name of global peace.

Learn more about Australia's peacekeeping missions since 1947.

National Police Remembrance Day

On 28 September each year, all police jurisdictions in Australia honour those officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, including on global peacekeeping operations.

Sources

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (undated), 'Solomon Islands country brief', accessed 15 August 2022, https://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/solomon-islands/solomon-islands-country-brief

Australian War Memorial (undated), 'Australians and Peacekeeping', accessed 15 August 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/peacekeeping

Australian War Memorial (undated), photograph P03680.015 caption, accessed 15 August 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C985342

Australian War Memorial (undated), photograph P04225.653 caption, accessed 15 August 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1035672

Australian War Memorial (undated), photograph P04580.036 caption, accessed 15 August 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1084941

Australian War Memorial (undated), 'Private Jamie Michael Clark', Roll of Honour, accessed 15 August 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10332727

Australian War Memorial (undated), 'Solomon Islands (IPMT), 2000-2002', military event, accessed 15 August 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/CN500100

Australian War Memorial (undated), 'Australians and Peacekeeping', accessed 15 August 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/peacekeeping

Horner, David; Connor, John (2014). The good neighbour: Volume 5, The Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations. Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition

Hunter, Claire (2017), 'The search for peace', Australian War Memorial, 13 September, accessed 15 August 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/brian-dawson-reflects-on-his-time-as-a-peacekeeper

Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (undated), timeline of the mission, accessed 15 August 2022, http://www.ramsi.org/

Relief Web (2004), 'Solomon Islands: Restoration of law and order by regional intervention force allows for the return of the displaced' Global IDP Project, 18 March, accessed 15 August 2022, https://reliefweb.int/report/solomon-islands/solomon-islands-restoration-law-and-order-regional-intervention-force-allows


Last updated: 5 October 2022

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2022), Australian peacekeepers in Solomon Islands from 2000 to 2017, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 29 November 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/peacekeeping/summaries/solomon-islands-2000-2017
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