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Published: Saturday, 7/26/2003

Trouble in `paradise'

The Solomon Islands, a nation composed of some 992 islands in the South Pacific northeast of Australia, have been the scene of ethnic conflict, corrupt government, and crime, including hostage-taking, for the past four or five years. Finally, somebody paid attention.

At the request of the islands' government, Australia led a multinational force from some seven neighboring nations to the Solomons the other day to restore order.

The only island in the Solomons that most Americans have heard of is Guadalcanal. It's hardly in the musical South Pacific tradition of Bali Hai.

In fact, some 2,150 U.S. forces died in bitter naval and land fighting with the Japanese in the Guadalcanal theater. The United States maintained forces on the island from 1942 until 1950, then left.

The Solomon Islands became independent from the British in 1978. Its half million people, speaking some 80 different languages, have had a hard time getting along with each other in recent years.

There was a coup d'etat in 2000. A peace agreement between conflicting factions fell apart, and, recently, competing armed militias made up of people native to Guadalcanal and immigrants from the island of Malaita have fought bitterly.

What was left of the islands' government appealed for help in early July. Australia led a regional response that resulted in a stabilization force of 2,000 troops and 300 police from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu arriving in Honiara, the capital of the Solomons, on Thursday.

This may be one global hot spot that won't hold the world's attention very long, given the higher profile problems in the Middle East.

In fact, although rather undeveloped in economic terms, the islands are not doomed to poverty. In addition to their fish and forests, the Solomons have mineral resources including gold, lead, zinc, nickel, bauxite, and phosphates. The Spanish named the islands after King Solomon in 1570 because of the gold.

The response of the seven South Pacific region nations to the trouble in the Solomons is a good example of how such problems can be dealt with, if there is a will and some organization.

Would that the West African states could arrive at a similar approach to the disorder in Liberia.



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