Policing the Southwest Pacific

Decolonization of the Pacific

Australasia 2013.0726

Policing the Southwest Pacific

Decolonization of the Pacific (26 July 2013)

Historical Map of Australia, New Zealand & the Southwest Pacific

The numerous island groups which had gained independence since the 1960s were not equally stable. After the withdrawal of Britain, and especially after the end of the Cold War, Australia found itself increasingly involved in maintaining order in the region, helping secure the independence of East Timor and attempting to resolve ethnic conflicts in Papua New Guinea and the Solomons.

Main Events

Fiji coups

On 14 May 1987 Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka leads a military coup d'état in Fiji, overthrowing the elected government of Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra. Four months later, on 28 September, Rabuka leads another coup, formally deposing Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms as Queen of Fiji and proclaiming a republic on 7 October. The coups favor indigenous Fijians over the sizable Indo-Fijian population, leading to an exodus of Indo-Fijians which makes them a minority by 1994.

Bougainville Conflict

When tensions over the influx of workers to the Panguna copper mine on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG), lead to violence, PNG constabulary and defence troops are sent to the region. However the conflict quickly expands, and in 1990 PNG is forced to withdraw, leaving the island in the hands of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), which declares independence. Returning in 1991-1992, PNG gradually reconquers the island in a war that results in several thousand military casualties and over 15,000 Bougainvilleans dead.

Fall of the Berlin Wall

After Hungary and Czechoslovakia open their borders to Austria, allowing tens of thousands of East Germans to escape to the West, the government of East Germany partially opens its border with West Germany. In the confusion over the new regulations, masses of East Germans gather at the Berlin Wall, overwhelming the guards and demanding to cross to the West. At 10:45 pm on 9 November, the guards relent. The Wall is swamped by celebrating East and West Germans, then torn down over the ensuing days.

Asian financial crisis

Starting in Thailand with the collapse of the Thai baht, a financial crisis spreads across the 'tiger' economies of East and Southeast Asia. The biggest impact is on Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand, but Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia, and the Philippines are also deeply affected. The crisis ends about a decade of growth in the region and puts pressure on the economies of the Pacific Rim.

East Timorese crisis

After 78.5 percent of voters choose independence from Indonesia in the East Timorese independence referendum of 30 August 1999, violence erupts in East Timor. Anti-independence paramilitary groups attack people and set fires in the capital of Dili, prompting foreigners to flee the country and tens of thousands of East Timorese to take to the mountains. In response to Western condemnation of the violence, Indonesia agrees to withdraw its troops from East Timor and accept an international peacekeeping force in its stead.

International Force for East Timor

Australia organizes and leads the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) in accordance with United Nations Resolution 1264 to restore peace and security in East Timor after the violence following its vote for independence from Indonesia. INTERFET secures the country over September and October 1999, passing control of operations to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor on 28 February 2000.

Democratic Republic of East Timor

With the end of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, the Democratic Republic of East Timor becomes an internationally recognized independent state under President Xanana Gusmão. The United Nations Mission of Support to East Timor is established on the same day to help provide security, which it does until wound down on 20 May 2005.

Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands

Following unrest largely caused by land alienation problems, the Solomon Islands Government requests international aid to restore stability. In response, six members of the Pacific Islands Forum – Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa – agree to deploy 2,200 police and military forces in the islands as part of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). After a decade of providing security and with the situation stabilized, the RAMSI forces are withdrawn in late 2013.

2011 Christchurch earthquake

A 6.3 Richter scale earthquake strikes the Canterbury Region, New Zealand, 10 km south-east of the center of Christchurch, New Zealand's second-most populous city. The quake causes widespread damage across the city, killing 185 people and badly damaging buildings and infrastructure. The subsequent exodus of people from Christchurch will see it fall behind Wellington to become the third most populous urban area in New Zealand.

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