THE Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) explains that it had to intercept 29 Bougainvilleans travelling in three boats at sea near Vella la Vella Island in the Western Province on Tuesday (February 20) last week because it had information that the group might pose a security risk to local communities.
Police intelligence indicated that the men were allegedly travelling to Gizo and Noro to demand compensation following the death of a relative in Noro town in early February.
There were concerns that if demands for compensation were not met, then community safety could be at risk. There was also intelligence that the men could be armed, which presented a high risk, requiring the involvement of the Police Response Team and Maritime Officers to intercept the boats at sea.
The men were detained at the Gizo Police Station on Tuesday night (February 20) while police and immigration officers made checks on their immigration status. Early the next day the men escaped from custody at Gizo Police Station.
Following negotiations between the Police, the Western provincial government and a chief representing the men, nine of the Bougainvilleans have since surrendered themselves.
The nine men have been interviewed and processed by police and immigration officers and assisted back to their side of the common Solomon Islands-Papua New Guinea border.
“The RSIPF intercepted the 29 Bougainvilleans for good reasons. We had reason to believe that if we did not intercept them before they reached Gizo, there was a possibility that they could have posed a threat to our people. The police did not want that to happen so we intercepted them and took them to the Gizo Police Station,” says Police Commissioner, Matthew Varley.
“Our actions might seem to some people that police do not respect the family ties that exist between the people of Bougainville and the Shortland Islands. Far from it. We respect the traditional ties but at the same time public must understand police has the task to prevent crime before it happens in our communities.
“The special customary travel zone between Bougainville and Western Province only applies to the area of Shortland Islands. There is no automatic immigration approval for foreign citizens to travel beyond the Shortland Islands. The RSIPF is duty-bound to protect the laws of this country.
“During the whole operation, RSIPF has been in daily contact with our counterparts of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary in Buin on Bougainville updating them on our actions and getting assistance from the officers there.”
As to the question of the possibility that citizens of Solomon Islands residing in various locations on Bougainville might be affected following the incident of the 29 Bougainvilleans, Varley says, “We ask all peoples of both countries to respect each other’s laws. The RSIPF respects the strong traditional ties between the people of Western Province and Bougainville, but our communities must also observe the laws on both sides.
“We however believe that the community leaders of the Shortland Islands and Bougainville will not want any fallout from the events of the past week to affect their people and will work out in their own way how to stop anything happening.”
The RSIPF will continue to maintain a high visibility presence in Gizo and surrounding islands over the coming days.
Police will also continue to investigate the lapse in security which led to the escape of the men from Gizo Police Station in the morning of February 21. Furthermore police are investigating if any persons harboured and assisted the remainder of the escaped men to get back to Bougainville. It is unlawful to harbour and assist anyone who has escaped from the legal custody of police.