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Peace interventions in the South Pacific: lessons from Bougainville and Solomon Islands

CollectionsANU Dept. of Pacific Affairs (DPA) formerly State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program
Title: Peace interventions in the South Pacific: lessons from Bougainville and Solomon Islands
Author(s): Hegarty, David
Keywords: South Pacific
peace monitoring
Solomon Islands
conflict management
state and nation building
peace interventions
internal conflict
Date published: 2004
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program, The Australian National University
Series/Report no.: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) working paper series: 2004/3
Introduction: Internal conflict has become the predominant threat to the security and stability of many of the small island nations of the Southwest Pacific and particularly in the countries of Melanesia. Since the late 1980s, conflicts of varying causes and degrees of intensity have occurred in Papua New Guinea (Bougainville secession attempt), Fiji (coups and attempted coups), Vanuatu (police rebellion) and Solomon Islands (ethnic conflict and coup). These events have seriously debilitated the already fragile national economies and polities of all countries, so much so in the Solomon Islands that that country is now being described by many analysts as a failing, if not failed, state. While most of these countries have so far been able (not without difficulty) to maintain a measure of state integrity, the situation in Solomon Islands has become so precarious that Australia and New Zealand (with the support of most Pacific Island governments and anticipating a request from the Solomons parliament) are preparing to intervene in an attempt to restore the rule of law and rebuild administrative institutions. The form of that intervention is not yet clear - it is thought likely to include up to 2,000 armed military and police with a large team of civilian technical personnel nor has a mandate been determined. In this context a host of questions arises as to how best to resolve, contain, manage and/or transform these internal conflicts in the interest of the security, stability and well-being of the peoples of the countries concerned and of the region as a whole. What are the ways out - or ways through - such conflicts? What are the appropriate domestic strategies, policies and mechanisms for resolving conflict and producing stability? Are they sufficient to the task? What roles can (and should) regional states play in helping states manage, settle or ameliorate internal conflict? Is external intervention the answer? What is the likely impact of such intervention? Is there a regional security architecture that might be useful in these circumstances? Is there a role for NGOs? Is conflict prevention possible? And if so, how? Do the answers not lie in a holistic approach to improving the processes of economic development and governance? And if so what agencies and policies are most likely to bring this about? How has the region responded to date? These questions deserve serious consideration and doubtless many will have been explored in presentations and discussions at this conference. The purpose of this paper is to consider one form of conflict management undertaken recently in the region; that is, the peace monitoring interventions by Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific Island Countries (PICs) in Bougainville and Solomon Islands. How useful have these exercises been in assisting peace processes and in conflict management/peace construction, and what lessons can be drawn from them for any future such operations - including perhaps for the more vigorous co-operative intervention currently in prospect? From 1997 to 2003, the Truce Monitoring Group (TMG) and later the Peace Monitoring Group (PMG), consisting of unarmed Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Islands military and civilian personnel, provided support to and helped facilitate the peace process in Bougainville. These external groups, numbering from 250 to 300 personnel at various points in time, were agreed to by the parties to the Burnham and Lincoln peace conferences held in 1997 and 1998. In Solomon Islands, following the conclusion of the Townsville Peace Agreement (TPA) in October 2000 to mid-2002, an International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT) comprising 50 unarmed police and civilian personnel from Australia, New Zealand and other PICs, was established to work in support of the indigenous Peace Monitoring Council (PMC) that had also been set up by the parties to the TPA to advance the cause of peace. While the specific mandates and responsibilities of the PMG and IPMT differed and the resources available to the two operations also differed substantially the expectation of the signatories to the peace agreements was that by providing a neutral, physical presence, by undertaking community confidence-building activities, and by facilitating contact between stakeholders in the respective peace processes, these interventions would help consolidate peace and reduce the prospect of renewed fighting. Note that these were not coercive interventions or humanitarian interventions in which armed forces under, for example, United Nations or regional agency command are inserted into a civil conflict to stop fighting and bloodshed and to make or keep the peace. They were unarmed and neutral monitoring operations consisting of military, police and civilian personnel inserted after peace agreements had been reached between combatants and authorities. These were a type of intervention designed to assist in conflict management and amelioration as part of the larger peace process rather than as the prime mover of the process.(At times, however, the PMG saw it as its responsibility to help maintain, or re-start, the momentum of the process when it flagged). Note also that in attempting to learn and apply lessons from one countrys conflict to anothers, methodological difficulties arise. Conflicts and resolutions are often context specific and the factors in play in one conflict/post-conflict situation do not always translate well to others. But while there are obvious limits to comparisons, it is nonetheless possible to generate at least some rules of thumb, particularly since there has been (a) such a large number of monitoring interventions of various kinds and (b) that the learning of lessons especially from UN operations has become something of an industry.


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