Chinese flee Solomon Islands

China is helping to evacuate about 150 ethnic Chinese refugees out of the troubled Solomon Islands following a wave of riots directed against the prosperous group.

    Two days of violence devastated Honiara's Chinatown last week

    The refugees, who will join hundreds of others who have already fled, were loaded onto trucks in the capital Honiara on Sunday to be taken to the airport, where two Beijing-chartered planes were waiting to take them to China.

    Two hundred other ethnic Chinese have already left the Solomons after two days of mob violence, arson and looting devastated Honiara's Chinatown district last week.

    The riots were sparked by rumours that either China or Taiwan had paid politicians to elect an unpopular new prime minister, Snyder Rini, prompting a surge of anti-Chinese sentiment.

    The Solomons is caught in a tug of war for diplomatic influence between rivals Beijing and Taipei, which have lavished financial aid on the region in a battle over diplomatic recognition.

    The South Pacific nation is one of a handful that officially recognises Taiwan, but China is trying to lure it and Taiwan's other diplomatic allies away.

    Both sides accuse the other of handing out bribes to influence the outcome of the tussle, and there is widespread belief among ethnic Solomon Islanders that the bidding war has corrupted their government.

    China-Taiwan tussle

    Beijing and Taipei have repeatedly denied having any influence on Rini's election, but the accusations continued to fly on Sunday.

    Gao Feng, a Chinese diplomat who was sent to help with the evacuations, accused Taiwan of doing "nothing for the local Chinese people who suffer".

    "They play games which harm the local Chinese people only for their (Taiwan's) benefit," he said, as he dispatched three truckloads of refugees to the airport.

    Taiwan's ambassador to the Solomons, Antonio Chen, rejected the claims, saying most of the refugees were from mainland China and did not want to go to Taiwan.

    "I am unable to provide them with passports or even to send them to China," Chen said. "How can I provide a flight to mainland China? I don't have the authority."

    He said he had advised Solomon Island authorities to allow mainland China's diplomats to enter the country and help the homeless Chinese.

    Meanwhile, a tense calm continued to pervade Honiara after Australia, New Zealand and Fiji boosted troop and police levels to more than 1,000 last week to restore law and order.



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