About 30 armed Bougainvilleans who allegedly threatened and intimidated Solomon Islands police officers at the Western Border two days ago also captured a police drone and then took off with it to Bougainville, police have revealed.
Deputy Commissioner National Security and Operation Support Ian Vaevaso revealed this at the Commissioner’s weekly media conference in Honiara yesterday.
It is believed it was the most serious incident yet since members of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) were deployed to the Solomon Islands-Bougainville common sea border last year.
Last Wednesday’s incident happened at the time Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was visiting the Shortlands. He was there to see firsthand the work of the front liners in protecting our border. Police did not say whether Mr. Sogavare’s life was put at risk.
The Bougainvilleans were armed with bush knives, axes, and spear guns, police said.
It is also unclear whether police have informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade about the incident, which has implications on the Solomon Islands-Papua New Guinea diplomatic relations.
In yesterday’s news conference, Deputy Commissioner National Security and Operations Support told how the police drone was captured by the Bougainvilleans.
“The drone was out of control from our operator and it fell and was captured by the Bougainvilleans,” Vaevaso said.
He added the drone was not recovered as our police officers were outnumbered at that time and that they feared for their lives.
“We are working on getting it back,” he said.
“We will make a request to the Chief of Bougainville Police to ensure the drone is returned as it belongs to the Solomon Islands Government,” Vaevaso said.
Vaevaso said the four police officers were conducting surveillance patrol along with the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG) border on a police stabicraft prior to the Prime Minister’s visit that day.
He said it was while they were patrolling along with the Nunugari atolls at the SI side of the border a white ray boat powered by a 15hp Yamaha with three Bougainvilleans on board was sighted.
“Our officers approached them in a friendly and professional manner and advised them to leave this side of the border as it is still closed and they have crossed into our side of the border illegally.
“In response, one adult male inside the Bougainvillean’s boat aggressively shouted and stated that they are fishing in their fishing ground.
“….but that is inside our territory,” Vaevaso explained.
Vaevaso said the police team further explained to them the issue of the border closure but they refused to comply.
He then said at that time the officers withdrew back a few meters and observed their movements.
Vaevaso further added that while the officers were observing, they sighted another two white ray boats powered with 15hp Yamaha approaching their relatives in the first boat.
He said they had conversions and their movements and actions looked suspicious.
Vaevaso said the team leader then advised them to use a drone to try and capture whether there was any dangerous weapon on their boats.
“So they deployed the drone at that time.
“As soon as the Bougainvilleans saw this they became violent and very aggressive.
“They started to intimidate our officers there with bush knives, axes, and spear guns.
“During that time, our drone was out of control by our operators and it fell and was captured by the Bougainvilleans.”
Vaevaso said, the Bougainvilleans tried to lure the local officers to go ashore on Nunugari Island but they did not go ashore as it could be a ploy by the Bougainvilleans to attack them.
He said our officers, however, withdrew to a safer distance as they continued to monitor the Bougainvilleans since they were outnumbered. Contact was then made with the Tactical Commander for backup.
He said not long afterward police support team arrived and they continued to monitor the Bougainvilleans until they returned to Bougainville with the police drone.
Vaevaso said this was not the first time such incidents had happened on the Border but our officers were always restrained in doing anything that could damage our bilateral relations with our neighbours.
Vaevaso also called on the people of Bougainville to respect the State of Public Emergency that the government has in place declaring the Solomon Islands western border an emergency zone.
“Our Government put that in place to ensure we do not import coronavirus inside our country.
“The State of Public Emergency supersedes any traditional crossing arrangements that have existed previously. These are not normal times,” Vaevaso said.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN BONGIDANI