Karen Andrews: ADF, AFP troops sent to Solomon Islands to restore ‘law and order’

Australian troops have been told they have one clear mission when they arrive in a Pacific nation mired in chaos.

Australian troops armed with lethal weapons have been told their role is not to intervene in the deteriorating domestic situation in the Solomon Islands.

Australia sent 23 specialist members of the Australian Federal Police to the Pacific nation on Thursday, with 43 Australian Defence Force personnel set to leave on Friday.

An additional 50 AFP officers are expected to be deployed in coming days to provide riot control support.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the AFP and ADF personnel had been armed with “lethal and nonlethal weapons”.

“The rules of engagement are, effectively, that we are there on the basis of the request directly from the Solomon Islands government in accordance with our treaty,” Ms Andrews told ABC Breakfast.

“They are there to support the Solomon Islands police force. This is a policing matter, not a military matter.

“We have always had a very long and close relationship with the Solomon Islands.”

Ms Andews said Australia had a “clear role” – to help restore law and order.

“We know the situation is particularly volatile. Our role is to assist with restoring law and public order and to work very closely with the Solomon Islands police force,” Ms Andrews told Sunrise.

“(We will) make sure we do all we can to assist. We are very clear in what our role is.

“It is not to intervene at all in any domestic situation in the Solomon Islands of political nature. It is purely to assist with securing critical infrastructure and to make sure we can assist the Solomon Islands police force.”

The ADF will help to reinforce “critical infrastructure” at the nation’s airport, after Australia received reports of buildings being lit on fire in the nation’s capital.

Tensions quickly escalated in the Pacific nation after protesters, angry about the government strengthening ties with China, defied a 36-hour lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

Protesters had arrived at the steps of the nation’s parliament, calling for Mr Sogavare’s resignation before some attempted to storm the building.

Protesters were met with tear gas and rubber bullets before the riot broke out, resulting in a nearby police station being set on fire.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the peacekeeping mission would remain in the Pacific nation for “a matter of weeks”.

“Our presence there does not indicate any position on the internal issues in the Solomon Islands,” Mr Morrison said on Thursday.

“We have always been there to help our Pacific family when they have needed us, and this is such a time.

“We believe in them being able to resolve these issues and to advance in accordance with constitutional processes and democracies.”

Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the Australian contingent also had the ability to provide medical response.

“It is certainly a dangerous situation on the ground. We have seen the rioting that has taken place, the arson and the general disorder,” Mr Dutton told The Today show.

“There is a lot of work for the police to do on the ground.

“It is a dangerous situation, there is no question.”

Originally published as ADF, AFP troops sent to Solomon Islands to restore ‘law and order’ amid chaos

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