Larger than normal crowds thronged Honiara’s main streets, while rundown buildings were being cleaned and long-closed shops reopened as Operation Helpem Fren (pidgin for “help a friend”) started smoothly.
A calm descended on the trouble-torn islands since the arrival of the intervention force.
Hundreds of policemen and at least a 1000 military personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and other Pacific islands landed in the Islands on Thursday in the biggest such operation in the Pacific since the World War II.
Rebels have already started surrendering weapons since the arrival, the police officer Ben McDavitt said. “That signifies a change of the balance of power towards law-abiding citizens of the Islands, and that is the way it should be,” added McDavitt, who is also deputy Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) commissioner.
Among weapons surrendered in the last week were five military style self-loading rifles and a 40 mm grenade launcher.
“This is a police-led operation at at this stage.”
McDavitt said the force had not yet acted against leading rebel Harold Keke, who has been blamed for a string of murders and kidnappings in the Islands. “Harold Keke is a person who we would obviously desire to speak with sooner rather than later,” he said.
The head of the intervention mission, Australian diplomat Nick Warner said it was a unique operation of combining law enforcement, peace-making and nation-building.
“Let me emphasise again, again and again, this is a police-led operation at this stage. The police are the primary vehicle for what we are trying to achieve in the short term,” Warner said.
The Solomon Islands has suffered a four-year civil war that, despite peace efforts, has showed few signs of ending.
The war has pitted the people of Guadalcanal and Malaita against each other and has spawned bands of rebel groups.