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REPORTER: Garry McNab

The stretch of water known as Iron Bottom Sound, a graveyard for the wrecks of World War II.

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It’s on these shores that the first RAMSI troops landed in July 2003, an initiative now itself in danger of sinking beneath a sea of violence, murky politics and corruption.

JAMES BATLEY, SPECIAL CO-ORDINATOR TO SOLOMON ISLANDS: Our focus is building the capacity of Solomon Islands’ individuals and their institutions to enable them to step up and to run their own affairs.

Australia, New Zealand and eight other Pacific nations began to build peace in the wake of a coup and a bloody ethnic civil war. Their progress was hailed as miraculous by many Solomon Islanders.

Weapons were destroyed and institutions overhauled. Thanks to RAMSI, the Solomons appeared to be on the mend, until the events of last month.

The election of Snyder Rini as prime minister sparked two days of rioting. The crowd believed he’d bribed his way into power with money from ethnic Chinese businessmen and the Taiwan Government. RAMSI forces were underprepared and overwhelmed.

SHANE CASTLES, ROYAL SOLOMON ISLANDS POLICE COMMISSIONER: We had no indication that this type of activity was going to take place. The police were significantly and extremely outnumbered at the time this violent activity spilled over into the streets.

Ethnic Chinese businesses and homes were looted and torched. Extra forces were quickly deployed in an effort to restore order. But was RAMSI still welcome?

SENATOR CHRIS ELLISON, MINISTER OF JUSTICE AND CUSTOMS: I saw first-hand the damage in Chinatown and elsewhere which was caused by violence, mob violence. I spoke to both sides of politics and I think it’s fair to say that there is still overwhelming support in the community and politically for the continued presence of RAMSI.

The violence showed evidence of preplanning, yet RAMSI had no prior intelligence, a sign, said critics, that the mission was losing touch on the ground. There was more criticism to come when RAMSI arrested two senior opposition MPs. Nelson Ne’e was charged on three counts of inciting the riot and intimidation. His cousin, Charles Dausabea, was picked up in a swoop outside parliament to face similar charges. RAMSI’s role in the arrests prompted opposition claims it was politically motivated. Nonetheless, the opposition went on to force Mr Rini’s resignation. Their victory secured when five MPs crossed the floor from the government benches. One of them was former prime minister Manasseh Sogavare, who went on to take power for a second time.

MANASSEH SOGAVARE, SOLOMON ISLANDS PRIME MINISTER: We will establish a good working relationship with RAMSI. And, of course, government is government – we need to talk on the issues that we have differences. That is the way to go about addressing the issues.

REPORTER: There is a perception from some that you may be anti-Australian, what would you say to them?

MANASSEH SOGAVARE: That’s a total lie and I think it is misrepresentations of myself. I’m not anti anybody, I’m just anti bad policies.

He immediately appointed the imprisoned Nelson Ne’e as Tourism and Culture Minister. Charles Dausabea – facing life in jail – was made Minister for Police and Justice.

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER: It seems to me it’s the wrong message to be sending to the ordinary people of Solomon islands about political reform and improved governance, to be appointing a police minister who’s in jail. I can’t see that’s a good message to send out.

The future of the Solomons is now at a crossroads. Manasseh Sogavare has demanded a reduced role for RAMSI. He wants foreigners out of key ministries, such as finance, and has called for the Director Public Prosecutions to stand down. This week’s visit by the Australian and New Zealand foreign ministers is certain to be a challenging one.

REPORTER: Garry McNab

CAMERA: Ryan Sheridan

EDITORS: Nick O’Brien, Rowan Tucker-Evans, Wayne Love

PRODUCER: Adrian Herring

EP: Mike Carey

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