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Wednesday, 13 August 2003
Page: 18392

Ms GAMBARO (2:01 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Given the importance of the issue to the security of our region, would the minister update the House on the current developments in the Solomon Islands?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Petrie for her question and for the interest she shows in this important issue for Australia. In response to the honourable member for Petrie's question, I am very pleased to inform the House that the Guadalcanal militant leader Harold Keke surrender-ed into the custody of the Solomon Islands regional assistance mission on the Weathercoast of the island of Guadalcanal earlier today.

The surrender of Harold Keke—and, I understand, three of his associates and some family members—results from discussions that Nick Warner, the special coordinator; Ben McDevitt, the senior Australian Federal Police officer in the Solomon Islands; and John Frewen, the lieutenant colonel, had recently with Harold Keke. As I said, three of Harold Keke's senior lieutenants have been taken into custody. Importantly, the weapons collection process in the Solomon Islands continues to work very well. In this particular case 40 weapons, including 28 high-powered weapons, were handed over subsequent to the surrender by Harold Keke. These weapons were handed over by villagers and militants from Keke's area. This opened the way to establishing a police post on the Weathercoast, which not surprisingly was an outcome very much sought by the people of the area.

Harold Keke and his associates are now being transported from the Weathercoast to Honiara aboard HMAS Manoora. They will be transferred to a secure location on remand. The regional assistance mission—RAMSI, as we call it—will ensure that Harold Keke is kept securely, is protected while in custody and receives all the rights and privileges accorded to him under Solomon Islands law. Keke has been arrested on an outstanding warrant for robbery. A full investigation of the crimes, including murder, allegedly committed by Harold Keke and his group in recent times can now proceed. Keke's activities have caused a great deal of anxiety and fear for many Solomon Islanders over recent years. In early July we provided quite a lot of assistance to people from the Weathercoast in order for those people to be able to sustain their own living.

The surrender by Harold Keke sends a very clear message to other militants in the Solomon Islands that there remains no excuse whatsoever for not handing in guns before the end of the current gun amnesty on 21 August. This is a very important development in the life of the Australian led mission in the Solomon Islands. It is a very great success that the mission has, in the end, been able to persuade Harold Keke and his lieutenants to surrender and that 40 weapons have been handed in, including some high-powered weapons. It is an illustration of the simply extraordinary success of the intervention mission at this stage. Today's events—which are the greatest success so far achieved by the intervention mission—lead one to conclude entirely reasonably that this mission is moving ahead much more successfully and effectively than ever we could have anticipated or hoped.