Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Solomons wants slow exit for Ramsi troops

Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Photo / Getty Images
Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Photo / Getty Images

Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Peter Shanel is hopeful the country will be able to cope as the Ramsi forces gradually withdraw, but the departures must be slow and careful.

The Ramsi (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands) forces, charged with maintaining security, have begun to pull back their involvement in the security monitoring group, which has been in the country since 2003.

Australia's Defence Minister Stephen Smith has given a tentative timeframe of five years to wrap up the mission, but New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, said there was no deadline in mind.

But the Solomon Star reported that a confidential briefing to a United States delegation warned ethnic violence could flare up within days of Ramsi leaving and it would take from 10 to 15 years to achieve stability.

Mr Shanel expected Ramsi to be there in the short to medium-term - although much progress had already been made in the eight years it had been there.

"In terms of timing for us, as long as we ensure we don't fall back to the path we had gone to in 2000 - that is the important part."

Mr McCully said the countries involved were all taking care in case a premature withdrawal resulted in a swift return to violence.

"There's a constructive dialogue under way which assesses the situation as we go, to make sure careful judgments are made and we don't make mistakes."

Mr Shanel is in New Zealand for the Pacific Islands Forum, which will give the leaders a chance to hear from Solomon Islands leader Danny Philip on how the first stages of the withdrawal are working.

Mr Shanel said all those involved would play a part in deciding the pace of the withdrawal.

Mr McCully said New Zealand began downgrading its Army contribution about 18 months ago, although it still maintained significant police numbers.

Ramsi troops were now also taking a back-seat role by mentoring and training local police and soldiers, rather than dealing with situations themselves.

Mr McCully yesterday announced a $25 million aid package for the Solomon Islands.

- NZ Herald

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