New Zealand troops to help Solomon Islands in election

By Thomson Reuters Mar 25, 2024 | 12:15 AM

By Alasdair Pal

SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand said on Monday it will dispatch defence personnel, helicopters and a naval ship to the Solomon Islands to assist in a national election due next month, where relations with China will be a key issue.

The deployment is part of a NZ$10.8 million ($6.48 million) support programme for the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission announced in January and that will help transport election officers and materials around Pacific Island nations.

New Zealand’s foreign ministry said the vessel HMNZS Canterbury will leave Auckland on Tuesday to transport two helicopters and crew, along with command and maintenance personnel to the Solomon Islands’ capital Honiara.

“New Zealand’s overall contribution will support the Commission to lead the delivery of a safe and successful election,” Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement.

“It demonstrates New Zealand’s commitment to a resilient democracy in Solomon Islands and the wider Pacific region.”

The Solomon Islands is a key ally of China, and closer ties with Beijing following the election of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in 2019 have alarmed the United States and Australia, and set off a race for influence in the strategically-located Pacific Islands.

At least one opposition politician, however, has called for a security pact with China to be reviewed and has said that he would seek to re-establish diplomatic ties with Taiwan, according to media reports. Another politician has said he would ask the people to decide on the Solomon Islands’ relations with China via a referendum.

The country said in September a contingent of Australian police first deployed in 2021 to quell anti-government riots would stay on in the country until after the election.

($1 = 1.6678 New Zealand dollars)

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in Sydney; editing by Miral Fahmy)