Three bodies found after days of unrest in Solomon Islands

Australian police are now helping patrol Honiara, the capital, which was relatively calm on Saturday morning.

People walk through the Chinatown district of Honiara on the Solomon Islands on November 26, 2021, after a third day of violence that saw the prime minister's home come under attack and swathes of the city reduced to smouldering ruins. [Charley Piring/AFP]

The bodies of three people have been discovered in a burnt-out building in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, police said on Saturday, the first reported deaths after days of rioting in the restive city.

The charred bodies were discovered in a store in the Chinatown district, which has been a target for looters and protesters. A security guard told AFP news agency he found the bodies in two rooms late on Friday.

Police said forensic teams had launched an investigation and were still on the scene but that the cause of the deaths was unclear.

More than 100 people had been arrested for rioting, police said on Saturday, as residents began to assess the damage left by days of unrest.

An overnight curfew has been imposed on the restive capital after three days of violence that saw the prime minister’s home come under attack and swathes of the city reduced to smouldering ruins. The 7pm (08:00 GMT) – 6am (19:00 GMT) lockdown will remain in force until it is revoked by the Governor General.

Australian police officers and local police monitoring a crowd in Honiara on Friday after days of rioting [Jay Liofasi/AFP]

Australian police officers, who arrived in the country late on Thursday following a request from the government, also joined their Solomon Islands’ counterparts on the streets to help restore order and protect critical infrastructure.

Some 50 officers from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary have also flown to in Honiara.

“Australia and Papua New Guinea are concerned about the violent turn that protests have taken in Honiara and jointly emphasise the importance of resolving tensions peacefully,” Papua New Guinea’s minister for foreign affairs Soroi Eoe, and Australian foreign minister Marise Payne said in a joint statement.

“We are aiming to help restore calm and allow normal constitutional processes to operate,” they said.

The explosion of violence is partly a result of frustrations with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government and chronic unemployment — a situation made worse by the pandemic.

Experts say the crisis has also been fuelled by long-standing animosity between residents of Malaita, the most populous island, and the central government based on the island of Guadalcanal.

The archipelago nation of about 700,000 people has for decades endured ethnic and political tensions.

Malaita residents have long complained that their island is neglected by the central government, and divisions have intensified since Sogavare suddenly switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019.

Songavare on Friday blamed foreign powers for stoking the unrest, but did not name them.

Malaitan Premier, Daniel Suidani, has become known for his vocal opposition to Solomon Islands’ China policy, and has maintained an informal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suidani spent five months in Taiwan earlier this year, ostensibly to receive medical treatment for an undisclosed brain condition.

Sogavare has been prime minister in four separate occasions since 2001, and opposition leader Matthew Wale has called on the veteran politician to resign. On Saturday, the Solomon Islands Herald reported Wale was filing a no-confidence motion in Sogavare. Although it does not have the numbers to succeed, Wale said the prime minister’s “lack of humility” had contributed to the crisis and a political solution was necessary to end the violence.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies