LAST week Ms Caroline Laore, one of the former TRC Commissioners, wrote a letter to the SI media urging the Solomon Islands Government to act on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, saying the TRC report was tabled in parliament in 2012 but had never been acted upon.
Ms Laore also voiced her concerns about the TRC report when speaking with a reporter of Radio New Zealand International when she was quoted as saying, “People all round the country contributed to the report hoping their stories would help create a better Solomon Islands.”
She then said (relating to the final TRC report). “The conclusion was that government had a responsibility to protect its citizens but it failed because we all know the police force was divided so the citizens were left on their own.”
I fully understand Ms Laore’s call on the government to act on the recommendations of the TRC but I take issue over her statement to RNZI, “The conclusion was that government had a responsibility to protect its citizens but it failed because we all know the police force was divided so the citizens were left on their own.”
If indeed that is an accurate record of the conclusion of the TRC report, which I would need to see verified, then there are several matters that need to be clarified in order to set the record straight.
I have personal knowledge of the painful and tragic events that occurred from late 1998 (not 1997 as Ms Laore said in one of her statements to the media) when the so-called “ethnic tension” first became evident (and a situation that was continuing when I left the Solomon Islands in mid-July 1999).
In my book ‘Policing a Clash of Cultures’ (most chapters of the book, with the exception of three which the Editor of Solomon Times removed), are available to see and to read on the online publication ‘Solomon Times’ and my book is available on Amazon Kindle’s book shelf), I fully and truthfully recorded all the happenings and events from the time of assuming my appointment as the Commissioner of Police and until my departure at the end of my two year contract.
I have also covered the period between 1997 and mid-1999 in my autobiography ‘Cometh the Hour’ which is also available on Amazon Kindle’s book shelf.
When Ms Laore referred to the government, “but it failed, ”she was referring, I presume, to the Solomon Islands Alliance for Change Government (SIAC) which assumed office in August 1997 under the leadership of Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa’ala, but if one reads by book‘Policing a Clash of Cultures’ then one will get a better understanding and a clearer picture of the dire financial situation the country was in when Ulufa’ala took over, but also gain valuable insights into the terrible state I found the RSIP in when I took command.
One will also read of the Strategic Review of the Solomon Islands security situation conducted by Australia at the request of the SIAC government in the early months of my appointment, and at my instigating, but a review that failed to identify the internal security threats then facing the country in 1998/99.
The Review did lay out a 5 year plan for changes to the police service and operational improvements but, crucially, no financial help or logistical support was mentioned and Prime Minister Ulufa’alu labelled it a whitewash.
Readers will also be able to learn of the accurate intelligence reports that I presented to the SIAC government as early as November 1998 warning of the then serious threat posed by the militant activities of the GRA and of subsequent accurate intelligence reports I gave to Australia, New Zealand and other regional governments before leaving office and afterward in Australia.
None of those reports were acted upon, including the final one I gave to Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organization in July 1999 – yes 1999.
It was I that recommended the SIAC government seek help from the Commonwealth to try and broker a peaceful outcome to the internal civil conflict but even that intervention did not end the bloodshed.
During my tenure in office two foreign journalists in particular manipulated their stories of events occurring in the Solomon Islands as a means of promoting specific agendas and created events that did not happen and omitted positive happenings altogether.
Those journalists laid the foundation for a denial of the truth with defamatory reports and slanted racial slurs and it was my fear that the knowledge of the truth will die with those who lived and witnessed the real events, hence the reason for my books, and because the alternative version will be universally accepted as the true facts unless one reads today of what really occurred.
It would necessitate writing a very lengthy précis of my book ‘Policing a Clash of Cultures’ and the simple answer is for your readers to see for themselves what can be found by turning to the “Opinions Column” of the Solomon Times if one wishes to get a better understanding of why I contest Ms Laore’s allegations of a government that failed and a divided police force.
Yes, there were indeed some divisions that surfaced in the police service when forced evictions of Malaitan plantation workers on Guadalcanal occurred, and after many of the workers and their families had been attacked and injured during the early months of 1999, but the divisions were not so serious to have been contained if only Australia had acceded to my request for help, given the RSIP was greatly handicapped by its lack of manpower, equipment and logistics, especially transport and communications.
One will read in my book of the assurances given to me by the police of their loyalty during the troubled times and despite the fact that police patrols had often come under fire and their lives at risk.
My book also tells how Keke and Sangu and other fellow militants were captured by a police party on Bungana Island in early 1999 and taken into police custody awaiting a string of criminal charges for attempted murder, assault and theft of police firearms and ammunition from the Yandina Police Station but only to be released on bail by the then Chief Magistrate in a highly unwarranted decision which allowed the pair to escape to the Weathercoast and to continue their armed militancy until 2003
The RSIP in 1997-1999 was short of the most basic equipment, logistics and manpower after years of neglect by successive governments. It was not possible to have taken on the militants who were capable of faceless hit and run tactics in guerrilla style raids supported by many sympathisers on the ground with the available transport poor communications and a shortage of manpower well below the authorised establishment.
(Here readers might want to pause and reflect on what I wrote last week when commenting on the report by the incumbent RSIPF police commissioner of a shortage of police vehicles, maintenance problems and the need for replacement vehicles to remain operational).
Because there are three chapters omitted from those listed in the Solomon Times publication, readers will need to see those chapters in my autobiography.
It is too simplistic and not a fair or accurate judgment for Ms Laore to have said, (and assuming the TRC report did find), “The conclusion was that government had a responsibility to protect its citizens but it failed because we all know the police force was divided so the citizens were left on their own.”
The Solomon Islands was left on its own until the regional governments decided to become involved in 2003 after the Prime Minister was ousted at gun point in a coup. Prior to that Australia had rejected two pleas for help by Prime Minister Ulufa’alu and one by myself.
“Policing a Clash of Cultures’ sets out the background to Australia’s decision not to have helped its troubled neighbour and why, in 2003, following the two Bali bombings. and a strategic shift in Australia’s security policy, RAMSI was born and a huge transfer of military and civil assets diverted to Honiara quickly ending the civil unrest, the capture of militant foot soldiers and the surrender of weapons.
An intervention by Australia in 1999 with a contingent of ‘tough’ Aussie soldiers and some police, with a transfer of military assets and under the cover of enabling legislation similar to what was cobbled together in Canberra and Wellington for Operation ‘Helpen Fren’ could have routed the militants there and then, kept the SIAC government in power to pursue the reform programmes it had earlier initiated and given the police service the support that was needed to bring criminals to justice for the heinous crimes and atrocious acts they had committed.
In 2018 the “Big Fish” responsible for the ethnic uprising and the economic and social downfall of the Solomon Islands go unpunished while the victims of those terrible years of internal conflict are having to still appeal for justice to heal wounds and bring closure to their lives.
Note: In 1997 to 1999 during my time in office the police service was known as the RSIP.