The Western Provincial Assembly (WPA) acknowledged and appreciated the assistance provided by the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in restoring law and order after the ethnic tension which affected the country from 1998 to 2003.
“Solomon Islands must now take care of its own security. RAMSI cannot stay forever. We must accept responsibility for law and order in this country. This includes provincial leaders. Our country’s security is in our hands,” said Deputy Premier of the Western Provincial Assembly, Hon. Wayne Maepio when summing up an hour and half of discussions between the RAMSI Special Coordinator, Quinton Devlin and members of the WPA in Gizo on 29 March.
At the invitation of the WPA Speaker, the RAMSI Special Coordinator Mr Devlin briefed the Provisional Assembly on the Mission’s drawdown and planned departure in June 2017. He also provided an update on RAMSI’s support to the Solomon Islands Government’s (SIG) staged limited rearmament of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF).
WPA members expressed ongoing support for the rearmament process, with a number of members recommending an armed presence in the Western Province.
“RAMSI has given Solomon Islands the breathing space to set things right after the ethnic tension. We appreciate the help you have given us in the last 13 years but we don’t feel secure yet because of the situation at the common border with Papua New Guinea. You can’t protect us with police uniforms,” said Hon. Maepio.
Other views expressed by members of the Western Provincial Assembly included:
· The region, including key RAMSI contributing countries such as Australia, should be prepared to respond quickly to a request for assistance from the Solomon Islands once RAMSI leaves;
· The Solomon Islands Government (SIG) should continue to prioritise funding for the RSIPF;
· The RSIPF should continue to ensure there is an ethnic balance amongst new recruits; and
· Further efforts were required to remove weapons from the community.
During the meeting, RAMSI Special Coordinator, Mr Devlin, explained that the clear majority of Solomon Islanders support ‘staged and limited rearmament’ of the RSIPF if appropriate safeguards are in place.
The project is described as a ‘staged limited rearmament’ because each stage must be approved by SIG, and rearmament is limited to three specialist functions of the RSIPF – the Police Response Team (PRT), Close Personal Protection (CPP), and armed police at the Henderson international airport.
At the request of SIG, the RAMSI has been providing training to carefully selected members of the specialist police units since 2014, including on the responsible use of police firearms. RAMSI has also helped the RSIPF to develop strict policies and procedures to govern the armoury and the issuing and safe-keeping of police firearms.
Discussing the planned departure of RAMSI, Mr Devlin said: “The drawdown of RAMSI should be considered as a good news story. It is a signal that the RSIPF has made significant progress, and that the national and provincial governments, as well as RAMSI itself, are comfortable and confident that the RSIPF is ready to take full responsibility for law and order and security in Solomon Islands.”
“While RAMSI is leaving, it does not mean that international support for the RSIPF will end. RAMSI contributing nations, particularly Australia and New Zealand, will continue to support the RSIPF bilaterally long after RAMSI leaves,” said Mr Devlin.