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New Zealand beefs up Solomon Islands peacekeepers

Deployment of 65 peacekeepers followed a request from the Solomons government

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday ordered police and troops to join an international peacekeeping mission in the crisis-hit Solomon Islands following deadly anti-government riots.

Ardern said the deployment of 65 peacekeepers followed a request from the Solomons government, which was almost toppled during the unrest that claimed at least three lives and reduced much of downtown Honiara — the country’s capital — to smoldering rubble.

She said an initial force of 15 New Zealand personnel would set off Thursday and another 50 would join them over the weekend.

The New Zealand leader said they would work with Solomons police and about 200 peacekeepers already on the ground in Honiara from Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

“We are deeply concerned by the recent civil unrest and rioting in Honiara, and… we have moved quickly to provide urgent assistance to help restore sustained peace and security,” Ardern said in a statement.

The crisis erupted last week when protests over government policies turned violent, fueled by poverty, unemployment and inter-island rivalries in the nation of 800,000.

Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is set to face a no-confidence motion filed by the opposition on Monday, providing another potential flashpoint for unrest.

After trying to storm parliament, mobs ran amok for three days, torching much of Honiara’s Chinatown area and attempting to burn down Sogavare’s home.

Calm was restored after Australian troops and police rushed to Honiara in response to Sogavare’s desperate plea to Canberra for help.

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