Fireworks, parades and services of thanksgiving in the Solomon Islands this week, as RAMSI comes to an end after 14 years. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands arrived amid tribal warfare and governmental collapse in 2003. As we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, it’s now regarded as a model for regional peacekeeping.
At an ecumenical service outside Honiara yesterday, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare praised RAMSI in biblical terms: “Yes, the Divine intervention to our call for help is RAMSI,” he said.
The Prime Minister did not always feel that way. Sogavare was among those skeptical of a military intervention which, despite its pan-Pacific facade, was led by Australia. While the combined force of soldiers and police officers restored order after they arrived, Sogavare blamed Australia for interference in the Solomon’s politics. During a term as Prime Minister in 2006, he threatened to expel Australian forces.
It could not have been more different scene yesterday: “We are gathered here to give thanks…for the many achievements that RAMSI has brought to the Solomon Islands,” he said.
Among its greatest accomplishments, was a gun amnesty program that collected thousands of illegal weapons. RAMSI retrained the police force, and gradually transferred authority. Australian and New Zealand police officers will stay on as advisors after the mission formally ends on Thursday, which will be a national holiday as Honiara hosts leaders from all 15 countries that participated in RAMSI over the years.
Jenny Hayward-Jones, a policy advisor to RAMSI in its first year, told the Australian Associated Press that the mission derived a lot of its legitimacy from its regional character. Those dynamics have changed, especially with Fiji’s realignment, and she said she doubted that a similar mission could operate today.