Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the deployment will include a squad of 23 federal police officers and up to 50 more to secure critical infrastructure, as well as 43 Defense Force personnel, a patrol boat and at least five diplomats.
The first personnel were due to arrive on Thursday night and the rest on Friday, and the deployment was expected to take several weeks, Morrison said.
“Our goal here is to ensure stability and security,” he said.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasse Sogavare announced the blockade on Wednesday after around 1,000 people gathered in protest in the capital, Honiara, demanding his resignation over a range of internal issues.
According to the government, protesters broke into the National Parliament building and burned the thatched roof of a nearby building. They also set fire to the police station and other buildings.
“They intended to destroy our nation and … the trust that was gradually building up among our people,” the government said in a statement.
Morrison said Sogaware turned to Australia for help amid the violence under a bilateral security treaty.
“The Australian Government has no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of Solomon Islands. It’s up to them to decide, ”he said.
“Our presence there does not indicate any position on the internal affairs of Solomon Islands,” added Morrison.
Australia led an international police and military force called the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, which restored peace to the country after bloody ethnic violence from 2003 to 2017.
Sogaware ordered the capital shut down between 7:00 pm Wednesday and 7:00 pm Friday, saying he “witnessed yet another sad and unfortunate event aimed at overthrowing the democratically elected government.”
“I sincerely thought we were past the darkest days in the history of our country,” he said. “However, today’s events are a painful reminder that we still have a long way to go.”
Despite claims by Solomon Islands police that they would conduct heavy patrols through Honiara in isolation, protesters took to the streets again on Thursday.
Local journalist Gina Kekea tweeted pictures of the burning bank, shops and school.
Morrison said he decided to send help after it became clear that the police in the Solomon Islands were “stretched out.”
Sogaware angered many in 2019, especially the leaders of the Solomon Islands’ most populous province, Malaita, when he severed the country’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan, instead switching his diplomatic loyalty to China.
Local media reported that many of the protesters were from Malaita, whose prime minister, Daniel Suidani, is at odds with Sogaware, whom he accuses of being too close to Beijing.
Suidani said he was not responsible for the violence in Honiara, but told Solomon Star News that he agrees with calls for Sogawara to step down.
“Over the past 20 years, Mannaseh Sogaware has been in power, the lot of the people of the Solomon Islands has worsened, while foreigners have reaped the country’s best resources,” Suidani said. “People are not blind to this and no longer want to be deceived.”
_____ Reported growth from Bangkok.