16 September 2013
PTE Tama Haua meets with local children from Mbarama village.
Leaving behind a stable country with a bright future is how one senior military leader assessed New Zealand’s contribution to restore peace and stability in the Solomon Islands.
The last of the equipment from the mission arrives in Wellington today on board HMNZS CANTERBURY following the end of the ten year deployment by New Zealand Defence Force personnel last month.
Working under the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) - the mission was a partnership between the people and Government of Solomon Islands and contributing Pacific nations.
RAMSI was initiated in 2003 following a call for help from then Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Sir Allen Kemakeza, whose Government had been undermined over many years by social unrest, intimidation and armed groups acting with no regard for the law.
Prior to 2003 tribal differences and basic criminal violence had escalated out of control with militias, gangs and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIP) were fractured along ethnic lines, adding to the problems.
With few options left the Solomon Islands Prime Minister reached out to his Pacific neighbours for assistance to help stem the flow of violence in the hope of turning the desperate situation around.
The call was answered by 15 countries around the Pacific region, among them New Zealand.
Group Captain (GPCAPT) Shaun Clarke was based in Joint Plans for JFNZ in 2003 when he was appointed Senior National Officer (SNO) for what was to be termed Operation Rata. Arriving in the capital, Honiara, GPCAPT Clarke was surprised to find the streets virtually deserted.
"We only saw one or two people on our first drive through - no businesses seemed to be operating," he said.
The original plan was to set up Headquarters at a motel site in the township but on arrival the National Command Element found it had been badly damaged, abandoned and secured with makeshift padlocked gates.
"With some local knowledge from High Commission staff we relocated to a disused house on a ridgeline overlooking the town, a place where we subsequently lodged for the duration of the first contingent."
By the end of August 2003 a total of 225 NZDF personnel were deployed to the RAMSI mission where roles included helicopter support, infantry, engineers, Combat Service Support and National Support Element (NSE) staff.
From the outset the NZDF deployment comprised of four phases. The first to establish a presence in the region, the second to support police operations, the third to complete a security force draw-down and the final, to provide ongoing logistics support.
While the initial build-up of force was successful, GPCAPT Clarke described it as being protracted.
"Complications included extreme wet weather, aircraft servicing problems and issues getting coalition logistics support systems in place," he said.
Lieutenant Colonel (LTCOL) Peter Hall was assigned as Company Commander on the first rotation and while he described an initial "underlying tension", he said the situation in the Solomon Islands soon calmed down.
"We operated from the airfield in tents and deployed on patrols with the police to all parts of the Solomon Islands," he said.
Personnel would then set up camps using existing infrastructure where they supported police by providing security and reassurance to locals.
"We were also working with police to apprehend criminals, search for weapons, reconnaissance tasks and providing additional security at Rove Prison."
After early security gains by the military and quelling of civil unrest, the Police component of RAMSI took over the primary security issues of day to day criminal behaviour. The deterrence factor provided by visible military personnel was appreciated by the Solomon Islanders, and served to reinforce the police-led security gains.
GPCAPT Clarke said a major focus was providing Police support during a successful weapons amnesty. More than 3700 firearms were collected, the majority of which were destroyed. Among them were 600 military-style weapons and 300,000 rounds of ammunition. By the end of the first three month rotation GPCAPT Clarke said there were 340 arrests involving 600 charges.
The progress under RAMSI brought a sense of confidence and optimism to the streets of Honiara with many returning to move freely about the capital, according to GPCAPT Clarke who also noted a shift in economic confidence with many new businesses opening their doors.
Lieutenant Colonel (LTCOL) Vern Bennett served as Deputy Commander of the Combined Task Force (CTF) during the first deployment and said the local response to military personnel arriving under the RAMSI operation was very positive.
"They certainly gained a lot of confidence having us living and working in the area," he said.
The opportunity to work with South Pacific counterparts represented a strong aspect of the military deployment as NZDF personnel developed and maintained strong links with military and police forces within the Combined Task Force and Participating Police Forces.
"The work in the Solomon Islands built upon our great experience of working within the South Pacific and the recent operational experience that we had gained in East Timor over the previous three years" LTCOL Bennett said.
"An overriding characteristic of the mission was the tremendous willingness of everyone to get stuck in and make things work."
More importantly for the NZDF the mission occurred at a time when service wide integration was called for - providing an ideal platform to prove how effective that model could be.
It also highlighted the close relationship between New Zealand and Australia in providing amphibious capability, air and sea transport and logistical support, with the missions often led by an Australian force commander.
In December last year RAMSI Special Coordinator Nicholas Coppel told an international business conference in Sydney that while many aspects of the Solomon Islands had changed for the better, including the elimination of weapons, it was now up to the people and government of the Solomon Islands to build on the foundations laid under RAMSI's direction.
"In the face of RAMSI's transition and drawdown which was signaled, negotiated and agreed by the Solomon Islands government, the key question is not whether all the underlying causes have been addressed, but whether there are incentives to maintain peace and oppose the resumption of violence," he said.
Mr Coppel said alcohol remained the number one underlying cause of problems for families and communities in the Solomon Islands.
"That is why it has been decided to keep RAMSI's Participating Police Force in the Solomon Islands for four more years until 2017." he said.
Major Patrick Beath served as the final SNO in the Solomon Islands and said he experienced mixed reactions from locals as the Kiwi contingent prepared to leave.
"Nearly all of them told us how much they enjoyed interacting with the Kiwi troops – that we were compassionate but friendly and professional," he said.
Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General (LTGEN) Rhys Jones, commended all personnel deployed under the RAMSI mission, for their dedication and commitment over the past ten years.
"There is no doubt this deployment exceeded expectations in duration, scale and overall success, but it also provided an excellent opportunity for us to work towards our goal of joint force integration," he said.
"The ability to train and deploy alongside our allies, including Australia, has only strengthened our position as a key contributor within the Pacific region, and I’d like to thank all personnel who contributed to the RAMSI mission."
NZDF Land Component Commander, Brigadier (BRIG) Mark Wheeler, said more than 1500 NZDF personnel had contributed to the mission which had seen significant progress made - including a far more capable Royal Solomon Islands Police Force which is now able to better manage the security situation.
"Our personnel can be proud of the role they have played helping Solomon Islands to develop their own stability, governance and prosperity," he said.
"We have left behind a stable country with a very bright future."
* NZDF sent a total of 17 rotations to RAMSI. The last NZDF platoon returned to New Zealand in November 2012. Eight NZDF personnel remained in the Solomons working with the Combined Task Force, but have since returned to New Zealand.
For more information, contact Defence Communications Group on 021 487 980.
SOLOMON ISLANDS - AT A GLANCE
Population: 523,000 (2009)
Over 900 islands comprising 28,400 square kilometres of land
Gordon Lilo Darcy is the eleventh and current Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands
RAMSI - BY DEFINITION
The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) is a partnership between the people and Government of Solomon Islands and fifteen contributing countries of the Pacific region. RAMSI is helping the SI lay the foundations for long-term stability, security and prosperity - through improved law, justice and security; more effective, accountable and democratic government and stronger, broad-based economic growth.
RAMSI – 15 Nations including:
New Zealand, Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
July 2003 - RAMSI commenced following a request for assistance to restore law and order from the Solomon Islands government.
August 2003 - Following an initial contribution of four Iroquois helicopters, crews, engineering and support staff the NZDF sent a platoon from 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment bringing the total number of NZDF personnel to 222.
December 2003 - NZDF personnel number 120 and continue on four month rotations.
January 2004 - Fourteen Air Force personnel return to New Zealand, alongside two of the four Iroquois helicopters that have been operating in the Solomon Islands since September 2003.
July 2004 - April 2006 - 85 New Zealand personnel return home from the Solomon Islands after RAMSI's military component is scaled down. By the end of 2004 there are 37 NZDF personnel in the Solomon Islands. From this time until April 2006 there are up to 44 NZDF personnel in the Solomon Islands with rotations every four months.
April 2006 - An election is held and 50 per cent of sitting MPs lose their seats. No one political group can claim victory. The appointment of a Prime Minister is therefore decided by a vote among the 50 newly elected MPs who select Snyder Rini. The decision caused unrest with widespread rioting and looting in Honiara. After a week in office Mr Rini steps down and a new Prime Minister, Mannaseh Sogavare, is elected. NZDF sends an infantry company to increase troop numbers in Honiara from 46 to 125 with most located between RAMSI HQ and Rove Prison.
June 2006 - An improved security situation leads to a drawdown of NZDF presence in Honiara with 76 personnel returning to New Zealand.
April 2007 - A tsunami hits the Western Province of the Solomon Islands after an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale. An RNZAF C-130 Hercules delivered NZAID supplies including tarpaulins, water bottles and field kitchen units to Munda airfield. Eight NZDF personnel depart for Honiara to assist with aid efforts.
February 2008 - Almost 100 New Zealanders working within RAMSI in law and order and capacity development activities.
November 2008 - NZAID Police Housing Project launched in the Solomon Islands to build 34 new houses for police families to replace the aging police barracks at Rove.
February 2009 - NZDF Solomon Islands based personnel, led by Major Joe Dowrick, placed on standby to respond to major flooding on the island of Guadalcanal which devastated communities and infrastructure on the island.
October 2009 - Governor-General of New Zealand, His Excellency, Hon Sir Anand Satyanand and Lady Satyanand, visit the Solomon Islands' to observe RAMSI activities and meet with New Zealanders including NZDF personnel.
November 2009 - Military in the Solomon Islands take part in a special march in support of White Ribbon Day for the elimination of violence against women.
Almost two in three Solomon Island women report having been physically of sexually abused by their partner.
June 2011 - Foreign Minister Hon. Murray McCully met with members of the 80-strong New Zealand contingent of military, police and civilians to discuss their work under RAMSI.
October 2012 - RAMSI special coordinator Nicholas Coppel announces to a special business forum that the Solomon Islands is now "back in business" and no longer needs an extraordinary intervention involving a foreign military force. He indicates that a smaller police-focused mission from mid 2013 was planned.
Nov 2012 - A small but poignant ceremony takes place as the last New Zealand deployment of military personnel hand over to an Australian platoon at RAMSI's official headquarters. NZ Defence Force Land Component Commander, Brigadier Mark Wheeler, told troops from New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea and Tonga that RAMSI had been a very successful Pacific solution to a Pacific problem.
NZDF personnel perform a haka in front of RAMSI's military Commander Lieutenant Colonel Brenton Gasteen prior to their departure from Honiara International Airport.
August 2013 - A small NZDF Theatre Extraction Team worked closely with Australia to manage the Combined Task Force’s (CTF) departure.