When foreign troops rolled into Honiara last Thursday, residents of the Solomon Islands' capital spilled into the streets to welcome them. Cheers mingled with laughter and shouts of "Tru nau!" (It's for real!) "People are very happy" about the Australian-led rescue mission, says Catholic missionary Cor Hooymayers. After years of victimization by armed thugs and corrupt officials, "they feel relieved. It is like a stone falling from their heart."
At the request of the Solomons government, whose authority barely extends beyond Honiara's electricity-less Parliament, Australia has committed 2,300 soldiers and police (joined by personnel from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga) to restore order and prevent the nation becoming a bolt-hole for smugglers and terrorists.
By Sunday, the troops had secured key buildings and begun street patrols with local police, who were previously afraid to leave their stations. Applauded by onlookers, they destroyed
25 surrendered weapons, including rifles, homemade crossbows and a grenade launcher. Another 1,500 guns are thought to remain in the hands of outlaws, many of whom have reportedly fled to rural areas.
It's not the first time Australians have stepped in to help their troubled neighbor. In 2000, they led a regional team sent to oversee a truce that collapsed two years later. "The peace monitors did their best," says Hooymayers. "But they were unarmed, and the troublemakers just laughed and called them tourists. Now people see the army clothes and guns and they are impressed. They say, ‘This time they're serious.'"