Solomon Islands capital in ruins after looters attack Chinese

Michael Field – The Australian

April 19, 2006
Hundreds of Solomon Island rioters targeting Chinese
businesses in an angry reaction to the election of a new government
have
left the business district of the capital Honiara in ruins.
As Chinatown in central Honiara was destroyed the new
government of Prime Minister Snyder Rini was in hiding.
”It’s very very sad,” leading Chinatown businessman John
Lamani told Fairfax .
“This is the backbone of the government’s money. People who
didn’t go looting are saying ‘well, where will you buy your next bag of
rice, or food or sugar’. It’s all gone, looted, burnt.”
A 110-strong detachment of Australian soldiers and police
were
expected to be flown in from Townsville last night and government
sources told Fairfax that Governor General Nathaniel Waena would
declare
a state of emergency once they had arrived.
A platoon of 46 New Zealand soldiers are already there
guarding ex-militants serving murder sentences. New Zealand has 35
police with a regional police force.
In the rioting two New Zealand police officers, five Solomon
Islanders and 17 Australian police were hurt in the rioting. None
suffered life threatening injuries.
A New Zealand police spokeswoman Sarah Martin said one of the
New Zealanders needed stitches over his right eye and was under
supervision in hospital for concussion. The other had glass fragments
flushed out of his eye and had suffered minor cuts.
The New Zealand High Commissioner, Brian Sanders, said
yesterday he could see smoke still billowing over Chinatown .
“That reflects that a good part of Chinatown has been
destroyed last night and a good part of it is still burning this
morning. A lot of looting is still going on in Chinatown .”
Hotels owned by leading Chinese businessman Sir Thomas Chan,
the Honiara and the Pacific Casino, were targeted. He is president of
Mr
Rini’s political grouping.
Mr Sanders visited the Pacific Casino Hotel where about 150
guests were staying.
“Some of them ( New Zealand guests) were at the hotel when it
got trashed which was not a good experience at all. They’re pretty
exhausted after getting woken up in the middle of the night with people
coming down the hall trying to break open your room.”
Auckland businessman Ray Vuksich was in the Pacific Casino.
“It was unbelievable. They were trying to get up the stairs
with machetes and batons,” he told NZPA.
The downstairs rooms were gutted, some burned, others simply
trashed.
“It was terrifying. They were waving their machetes around.
Women
were screaming.”
He said there appeared to be real hate of the Chinese.
“They’ve totally burned down Chinatown . There’s
nothing left.”
A joint Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Island military
and police force Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands (RAMSI)
occupied the Solomons in August 2003 in a bid to end ethnic conflict
which drove the country to bankruptcy.
Many RAMSI vehicles were destroyed in the rioting.
Solomon Islands Police Commissioner Shane Castles told state
broadcasting that 120 police and armed military personnel would fly in.
Mr Castles said Mr Rini was being kept under maximum
security.
“In terms of the security of the prime minister and the
former
prime minister, they are being kept at a secured location, and I am
satisfied that adequate resources and sufficient security is at their
disposal,” Mr Castles said.
The Solomons held general elections earlier this month and on
Tuesday its 50 member Parliament met in secret session to elect a new
prime minister after incumbent Sir Allen Kemakeza said he did not want
a
second term. The post instead went to his deputy, Mr Rini, 57. He was
implicated in the collapse around the ethnic unrest in the late 1990s
when he approved up to SI$80 million in remissions, giving Asian
logging
firms tax breaks while allowing tax free entry on beer, cigarettes and
vehicles for people linked to militants.
As news of the result got out of the building, protesters
tried to storm Parliament, prompting police to fire tear gas at them.
Speaker, and founding prime minister Sir Peter Kenilorea, was
critical later of the use of tear gas.
”They should (have) allowed time for us to keep talking to
the protesters at the parliament house and not to use tear gas on them,
because it would simply aggravate the situation and it would simply
take
the parliament situation, or scene, out to the streets,” he told ABC
Radio.
Mr Lamani, who publishes the daily Solomon Star, was
emotional
saying the old town had gone, and for the first time ever his newspaper
had not appeared yesterday. He never missed an issue through the ethnic
conflict.
“The Old Chinatown area has been put up in flames. They burnt
all the Chinese buildings, the shops. And they are still doing it now.”
He watched as people deliberately went at the Chinese
businesses.
“They were saying the Chinese were the ones who financed the
politicians… people do not want the last government, they wanted
change….
“A lot of children and a lot of women were present. What they
did was that people would walk up and smash the doors and windows, open
up the shops and let people walk in and loot the place.”
Mr Lamani said the crowd was united in opposition to Mr Rini:
“they hated this man, they wanted somebody else.”
Solomon Government spokesman Johnson Honimae estimated up to
90 percent of Chinatown had been destroyed, although he said the
looters
cashed in on the political turmoil.
“They had no political interests whatsoever, they just took
the chance.”
Mr Honimae agreed that the bulk of the looting was aimed at
the around 1000 Chinese living on Honiara .
“It’s this new wave of Chinese that have really agitated the
situation.”

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