Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare today launched the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) Limited Rearmament Programme, describing it as a new chapter in national history after the ethnic tension.
The launch coincided with the passing out of officers from the CPP (Close Protection Police), PRT (Police Response Team) and International Airport Police Team- special units to be rearmed under the RSIPF Limited Rearmament Programme. The officers had undergone intensive weapons handling training under the strict supervision of the Regional Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) over the last three years.
“This particular occasion is about tomorrow. It is the beginning of a long arduous and sensitive journey of confidence-building. It is the beginning of the last hope that our people will have in the RSIPF as an institution that can be trusted with the security of this nation.
“It is an acid test to demonstrate to the people of Solomon Islands that the RSIPF has indeed fully reformed and can once again be called the disciplined force because that is who you are. You have a tremendous responsibility on your shoulders and one which you cannot take lightly,” the Prime Minister told the officers.
He added that, “My good officers, the fact that you stand before me is evidence of the trust that the Government places in you on behalf of the nation. We have entrusted in you the security of our nation especially when RAMSI is poised to exit service.
“Your country asks that you pledge your honour to the people. They have cried enough and I ask you that you hold dear their plea. The plea is that weapons are not used ever again against the people they are intended to protect.”
The Prime Minister said the wrongful use of firearms was the core reason why people lost confidence in the RSIPF as custodian of the duty to protect the citizens of Solomon Islands.
He said now that the RSIPF has regained that lost confidence, it has a duty to ensure that it maintains it.
“That responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of each and every police officer who will be entrusted with the use of firearms in the discharge of their official duty.”
Prime Minister Sogavare said since the arrival of RAMSI, the issue of rearmament has been at the epicenter of national discussions for some time.
He said not all Solomon Islanders have been supportive of this initiative as arms has been attributed to the downfall of the nation.
However, the Prime Minister said, “Life is a continuous journey and therefore at some point in our lives, we must be able to either personally or collectively make the conscious decision to move on life or be forever be burdened with the past.”
On that note he said rearmament is an issue that Solomon Islands as a nation must come to terms with.
“That moment has come and as a nation we must accept the hard fact that as a member of the International Community, we must move on and function as a country with sovereign rights to make sovereign decisions,” he Prime Minister Sogavare added.
Turning to the issue of security, the Prime Minister assured the nation of the Government’s commitment to ensuring national security.
“I must assure the nation that security issues are significantly highlighted in the budget reprioritization of the Democratic Coalition for Change Government.
“I can assure the nation that the Democratic Coalition for Change Government stands committed to ensuring that our RSIPF develops its operational capabilities so that it has the ability to respond to serious criminal threats and manage national security.”
The Prime Minister said he has been reassured by the Commissioner of Police that it is a requirement that all members of the units to be armed are only allowed to access firearms if they pass the set rigorous training.
The Special Coordinator of RAMSI, Mr Quinton Devlin in turn described the RSIPF limited rearmament Programme as the last major piece in a jigsaw of rebuilding the RSIPF.
He said limited rearmament enables the RSIPF to resume full responsibility for policing and national security in the country.
Mr Devlin said it removes the requirement for an armed operational police force to be on Solomon Islands soil and means Solomon Islands can independently look after own security.
He said RAMSI will leave on the 30th of June, confident that Solomon Islands can manage law and order incidents that it is likely to face.
The RAMSI Special Coordinator said this is in part, aided by the ongoing advisory support from 44 Australian Federal Police and a smaller team of New Zealand Police and the reassurance provided by a currently negotiated arrangement which would fast-track a request for assistance from Solomon Islands to Australia in any emergency situation.