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Australia's Pacific intervention hits snag

Protests after this month's vote in the Solomon Islands hamper Australian nation building.

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The outbreak of violence following this month's general elections in the tiny South Pacific country of the Solomon Islands has dealt a setback to Australia's efforts to establish a viable democracy there.

In 2003, Australia announced that it would send an intervention force to take care of the widespread political corruption and violence that was threatening to turn the archipelago of more than 1,000 islands into a failed state.

The mission - widely seen as a reversal of a policy of noninterference with neighbors - was prompted by a plea for help from leaders in the Solomons, as well as concern in Canberra that the lawless islands could become a haven for global terrorist activity.

The expedition met quick success. Australian forces confiscated tons of illegal firearms, charged hundreds of people with murder, and persuaded Harold Keke, the most notorious warlord on the main island of Guadalcanal, to surrender. With peace largely restored, Australia had begun focusing on economic development and sent home many of the troops stationed there.

Last week, however, many of those troops were sent back to put down postelection riots, prompting analysts here to caution that sustaining peace on the Solomons will require a much longer, and more complicated, effort by Australia of developing durable political institutions.

"In 2003, we elected to take on this responsibility and we elected also not to take it to the security council at the UN, partly to avoid an added layer of bureaucracy, so it's our job now to see it through," says Michael Fullilove, a political analyst at the Lowy Institute, an independent think tank in Sydney.

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