At a time when the Commonwealth Envoy, Major General Sitiveni Rabuka, was attempting to broker a peace settlement to the uprising in the Solomon Islands that first began in late 1998, and the government had offered to make a SBD$2.5 million payment to the self-styled GRA in return to end the conflict and was awaiting Guadalcanal provinces next move, it seemed expedient to me not to provoke the situation by ordering all out assaults on the road blocks the militants had set up but to try and await a peaceful outcome.
TRC appeared to have concluded “underestimating" the underlying issues of the unrest in rural Guadalcanal impeded a vigorous reaction of the police to end ethnic disputes and confront the rise in militant activity from the outset”.
The finding is totally unfounded and not based on evidence or the facts. My long experience in similar security situations overseas had taught me that an over-reaction would have had far-reaching and hugely negative consequences, as proved to be the case after I left the SI and new police management adopted an ill-informed combatant approach when dealing with the insurgency. This point can be illustrated by just two examples, although many others were witnessed and could be cited, including the horrific situation when a police patrol vessel was fitting out with a machine gun and deployed off the cost of Guadalcanal when the gun was used to fire at innocent civilians onshore.
Once the RSIPF began aggressive actions, they often overreacted and used heavy-handed tactics that inflamed the situation and reinforced community concerns that officers were biased and ineffective. The police deployed its RRU to selected positions in north and northeast Guadalcanal in search of militant strongholds and to protect economic key areas like the Gold Ridge Mine, where the TRC received statements denouncing abusive behaviour of police officers against workers of the company and villagers from surrounding communities.The TRC reproduced part of a witness statement: This read (quote)"During the tension I was employed at the Gold Ridge Mine, I worked as a barman in the company’s pub. Not long after the militant activities started the Police Field Force [the NRSF) were deployed to provide security for the company, they had sent over seventy plus officers and they were all armed and the Police officers treated us badly. They accused us of being members of the GRA. I told them that we are not members of GRA; we were employed here (at the mine) and have no part in the militant activities. (End of quote)That brief illustration from just one person who gave evidence to the TRC underscores my initial concerns about deploying the NRSF (Police Field Force), made up of mainly Malaitan police officers. I find it unconvincing, too, that the TRC failed to connect the initial uprising to the reported. involvement of politicians who had tried to oust the SIAC government after successive motions of no confidence had failed.
If, indeed, there had been an underestimation of the unfolding situation, as claimed by the TRC, then it was by the disgruntled politicians who first ignited the fuse that set off the “ethnic unrest” by their politicking and who misjudged the subsequent reactions to the extent that they were unable to prevent the wildfire that ensued.
Moreover, while Prime Minister Ulufa’alu respected the operational independence of my role as Police Commissioner, he was totally opposed to dividing the nation by a heavy-handed “military” police deployment – and I shared his real concerns.
It is also pertinent to mention that, had the Solomon Islands not abandoned. the former British colonial system of administration that had functioned.successfully for many years prior to the nation’s independence, the ethnic divisions over land rights and settlement that first surfaced in the remoter regions of the Weather Coast might well have been dealt with on the spot and effectively nipped in the bud. For whatever reason, the TRC failed to acknowledge the huge effort I put into the introduction of community policing and why I believed it was important from the point of view of national security for the police to have their eyes and ears on the ground.
My reasoning was to have used the NRSF the chances were that one element of their ranks could have turned on the other and this could have provoked an all-out civil war.
There was highly reliable intelligence given to all “our” close development partners well in advance of the scale of militancy that it became, and they failed to help or render practical aid.
In the absence of external aid the RSIPF was not able, for the reasons I have explained at length, to take on the militants without incurring possible loss of life, including police, provoking a civil war and forever destroying the possibility of future co-existence between the population groups.
External intervention came too late in 1973 put down the insurgency but one had to witness the arrival of huge quantities of logistical supplies, boats, vehicles, aircraft, soldiers, communications etc, to understand what the RSIPF lacked to even risk using the NRSF.
I hope that I have made the position clear by highlighting these points and
I stand by my decision not to have deployed the NRSF.
My long experience in similar security situations overseas had taught me that an over-reaction would have had far-reaching and hugely negative consequences, as proved to be the case after I left and new police management adopted an ill-informed combatant approach when dealing with the insurgency.