Fiji sends troops to Solomon Islands as hunger fears grow

Honiara (AFP) – Fiji joined an international peacekeeping force in the crisis-hit Solomon Islands Monday as the Red Cross prepared for food shortages in the Pacific island nation's devastated capital Honiara.

Advertising

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama deployed an initial 50 Fijian troops to maintain law and order in the wake of deadly anti-government riots, lifting the number of peacekeepers to about 200 -- mostly Australian with a contribution of at least 34 from Papua New Guinea.

He said another 120 troops were on standby if the security situation deteriorated.

"Out of concern for the safety and well-being of our Pacific sisters and brothers in the Solomon Islands, 50 Fijian troops will dispatch to Honiara tomorrow," the Fijian leader tweeted.

The Solomons crisis erupted last week with three days of deadly rioting in Honiara blamed partly on poverty, hunger and frustration with government policies in the nation of 800,000.

The riots claimed at least three lives as mobs attempted to torch the prime minister's private residence and parliament before being dispersed by police, who fired tear gas and warning shots.

The Fiji deployment came as Honiara residents continued to clean up the shattered capital, where much of the Chinatown area was reduced to smouldering rubble.

Wrath of fire

Solomon Islands Red Cross Secretary General Clement Manuri said food was becoming scarce in Honiara and aid agencies were assessing whether they needed to distribute emergency supplies.

"We're having meetings now with the NDMO (National Disaster Management Office)," he said.

"It's not clear but soon, in certain crowded places, maybe they'll run out of food."

Rioters burned and looted Chinese businesses during the unrest and Manuri said that meant most of the stores where people bought food staples had been destroyed.

He said the Chinese community was keeping a low profile after being targeted and had no immediate plans to reopen their shops.

"They've scattered and are staying with friends," he said. "They're in shock and the priority right now is getting accommodation."

The Chinese community was target partly due to the Solomons government's switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019, a move that angered some communities in the aid-dependent nation.

The Solomon Islands Chinese Association (SICA) said in a statement cited by local media that it has more than 70 years of history in the islands.

"Many Chinese individuals and families have lost literally everything and are also homeless," it said, condemning the "senseless" violence.

Finance Minister Harry Kuma said food prices in Honiara's markets had skyrocketed as a result of the riots and there had been widespread destruction of both public and private property.

"Allow me to extend my heartfelt sympathy to those businesses and individuals who have lost millions of dollars worth of goods and property to criminal destruction," he told parliament.

"My sincere condolences also go to the families who have lost a loved one to the wrath of fire."