Written by Staff Writer
By Kjell-Erik Nash, CNN
A standoff between armed Solomon Islands government officials and local chiefs, which preceded last weekend’s deadly attack on security forces, shows no signs of easing despite President George Miller pledging a national summit to investigate the assault.
About 30 plainclothes police officers were ambushed early Sunday by about 30 masked men in Honiara, the capital of the country. The group was armed with bows and arrows, rifles and assault rifles. Police said three officers were killed and four more injured, the vice president of the police force said, speaking anonymously to CNN. Three individuals have been arrested.
“They were hit by a huge tree limb,” the police official said, referring to the ambush on Sunday. “The leadership didn’t take the police seriously. We thought the officers were out to kill them. If not, why did they protect the attackers?”
Numerous commentators have likened the attack to a “challenge” posed by the government. The gunmen posted unconfirmed reports on social media that they had killed three police officers.
Solomon Islands Vice President Benjamin Tafe’o is escorted from his house by members of the Tongan security team in Honiara, during a meeting to assess the situation, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Tonga’s Presidential security Force is one of the national security forces in Solomon Islands. (AP Photo/Ike Liu)
“We had this vexing feeling, that the police are not really 100% engaged to protect the police,” said Ken Akaini, who was a journalist for Solomon Islands’ Rotumasia newspaper and now writes for political publication www.salvosworldwide.com. “Some would call it an intimidation campaign — that is what some are describing it as.”
Akaini said he had made complaints to former Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare about the way the police force was being run.
“He also heard me and he didn’t really refute it,” he said. “He just put us off the story.
“He really hadn’t listened to us. I don’t know what happened to Manasseh Sogavare. I just saw him one day, and it just looked like he had nothing to do.”
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Miller said: “This will be an opportunity for our country and people to draw a line under this ongoing problem.” He added that a review of the Police Force would take place and the government would hold a meeting to discuss the attackers’ apparent motives and the causes of the “sudden outbreak of violence.”
However, Akaini said the government was not showing any signs it would address the underlying problem of the force.
“At the moment, all indications are that the Security Force of Solomon Islands is not a functioning force,” he said. “You can’t have a group of armed criminals wearing plain clothes storming a police station and taking away bodies without some sort of cover.”
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Thursday that Simon was in Honiara “with an update and consultation with the country’s political, traditional and religious leaders on the situation” and said the “Government will continue to cooperate with all agencies investigating the actions of the attackers.”
A total of 12 countries assisted with the security response, including Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the United States. On Thursday, the US Embassy in Honiara said it had also conducted a joint patrol with locals and that it was “proud to see the Government of Solomon Islands standing up to violent criminals.”
On Wednesday, Wole Pellewi said on Twitter: “Unfortunately Solomon Islands’s geography, religious heritage and natural resources make it one of the most brutal places on earth. All round it is a horrendous place to be a woman or an orphan.”