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Pacific set to back Solomons force

By CNN's Grant Holloway

Kemakeza, right, and Howard met in April to discuss future action.
Kemakeza, right, and Howard met in April to discuss future action.

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Name: Solomon Islands
Area: 28,450 sq km
Capital: Honiara
Population: 0.5 million (2002)
Prime Minister: Sir Allan Kemakeza
GDP: $264.0 million (2001)
Currency:  Solomons Island dollar (About 5.5 to $US)
Main industries: Agriculture, fishing, mining, forestry
Main export destination: Japan
Main import source: Australia
Source: Australian government

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Pacific nation foreign ministers meeting in Sydney are set to approve the sending of a multinational peacekeeping force to the strife-torn Solomon Islands.

As many as 2,000 troops and police could be stationed in the Solomons by the end of July in a bid to restore the rule of law to the Pacific nation.

So far, Australia and New Zealand have agreed to commit forces to the peace-keeping effort and other nations such as Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga are also expected to contribute.

Foreign ministers from the 16-nation Pacific Island Forum are meeting Monday in Sydney where they will consider an intervention proposal backed by Australia and New Zealand.

In April this year Solomon Island Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza made a personal request to Australian leader John Howard to supply forces to help restore order in his country.

But any move, regardless of today's decision, is dependent on a formal request for action by the Solomon Island's Governor-General following a decision by the country's cabinet. Such a request is expected in the next few weeks.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer stressed Monday that Australia would not be sending troops to the region unless the move had the total support of the Pacific island nations.

"We're not going in there uninvited and we're not going in there against the wishes of the region," he told the Nine TV Network's Today program.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said Monday the United Nations was also set to give its approval for the intervention.

He told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio Monday that he had been in touch with the political affairs department of the United Nations who said they would support Australian and New Zealand efforts in this matter.

Ethnic violence

The UN regarded Australia and New Zealand as being critical in maintaining stability in the Pacific region, he said.

The Solomon Islands is home to around 500,000 people and lie in the Pacific Ocean off the northeast coast of Australia.

The country has been hit by continuing ethnic violence since 1998 and the government has little, if any control, of the country outside of the capital, Honiara.

It is estimated that only 10 percent of the country's consolidated revenue reaches the Treasury, the rest being dispersed in the form of bribes and extortion.

The move by Australia is a significant change of policy towards its troubled Pacific neighbors, reversing an earlier "hands off" stance.

Australia could send around 200 police and 1,500 troops while New Zealand is prepared to commit up to 200 troops and 30 police to an intervention force.

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