Australian troops to leave Solomons

Australian troops will return home from the Solomon Islands, following a deployment there just over three months ago.

    Troops would return home by early December

    Defence Minister Robert Hill said about 800 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel would be returned home by early December.

    In an address to parliament, Hill commended special coordinator Nick Warner and the other leaders of the force, including military chief Lieutenant Colonel John Frewen.

    "All have done a marvellous job," he said. "But I also think it's a credit to the government and the people of the Solomon Islands”.

    A 2000-strong regional force landed in late July in an attempt to end five years of militia violence which left hundreds dead.

    In Honiara, the force's Australian military chief said the situation had "changed dramatically" since the force arrived in the country.

    Australia provided more than half of the members of the regional force which included troops from New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and assumed its leadership.

    Commitment

    Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the partial withdrawal did not mean Australia's commitment was over, but added he had not expected progress to be so rapid. Some soldiers from the Solomon Islands' Pacific neighbours would also leave, he said.

    So far the force had confiscated about 3600 weapons, arrested several key figures and established about 15 police stations, Downer said. A complete withdrawal of the military component of the force might eventually follow, he suggested.

    "I think we'll be able to downsize the military component and maybe withdraw, or close to withdraw, the military component, excepting some logistics, faster than I'd originally imagined”.

    He said the troops would not be able to withdraw until the Royal Solomon Islands police was really in a sustained leadership position.

    SOURCE: AFP


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