Arrest of militia leaders
A primary task of the police and military operation under RAMSI was the arrest of key militia leaders from the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) and other groups. The early arrest of militia leader Harold Keke on the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal was an early success for RAMSI.
Solomon Islands country briefing paper, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, November 2007
“RAMSI police and the SIPF have made numerous arrests, including many RSIP officers on serious charges. Leading ex-militants from both sides of the original conflict have been arrested and charged with serious offences including Harold Keke, Moses Su’u, Andrew Te’e, Jimmy ‘Rasta’ Lusibea and Stanley ‘Satan’ Kaoni.”
“The discussions were delicate with C Coy, 2RAR, providing security and back up on HMAS Manoora, RAN Sea Kings and UH-1H helicopters providing transport and logistic support. On the day of his arrest, Harold Keke, two of his key associates and family members, were brought aboard HMAS Manoora and taken back to Honiara where legal proceedings are now underway. On the day of Keke’s arrest Australian and New Zealand air assets flew RAMSI civilian, police and military personnel to the village of Mbiti on the Weather Coast where around 50 of Keke’s supporters surrendered their weapons in an emotional ceremony. During the ceremony one of Keke’s men declared “the war is over”, referring to years of ethnic conflict that appears, at this stage, to be drawing to a close.”
“Over the past 12 months, significant inroads have been made to restore law and order to the Solomon Islands after years of turmoil at the hands of rebel militants. More than 2000 people have been arrested in Solomon Islands, including key militant figures such as Harold Keke and Jimmy Rasta. Police have also seized 3,730 weapons and more than 300,000 rounds of ammunition.”
One year on for RAMSI – Operation Helpem Fren, AFP Media release, 23 July 2004
“On 24 July 2004 it will be one year since the first Australian Hercules touched down at Henderson International Airport in Honiara, marking the start of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI)….As a result of cooperative efforts between the Royal Solomon Islands Police and the Participating Police Force the following milestones have been achieved to restore law and order:
- 3,730 illegal weapons and 306,851 rounds of ammunition have been seized or surrendered and ultimately destroyed. This includes about 700 high-powered military style weapons.
- 3,316 people have been arrested and charged with 4,788 offences. These charges are now being processed through the courts.
- Among those arrested are key militant figures such Jimmy Lusibaea (Rasta), Ronnie Cawa and most notably the Weathercoast militant leader Harold Keke, who surrendered on day 20 of the mission following lengthy negations with senior members of the PPF.
- A significant number of high profile murders have been solved including the murder of seven Melanesian brothers who were killed by Keke’s gang in early 2003, 10 Kwaio mercenaries sent to the Weathercoast to capture Keke but caught and killed when their boat ran out petrol and father Augustine Gieve who was murdered by Keke’s gang for allegedly failing in his duties as a politician.
- Exhumation operations have uncovered a total of 43 bodies.
- Internal investigations into the professional standards of the Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) have resulted in 71 arrests and 375 criminal charges being laid. These charges include official corruption, murder, intimidation and inappropriate use of firearms. Over 400 people have been removed from the RSIP.”
Commentary and analysis
Counterinsurgency in a Test Tube: Analyzing the Success of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), Russell W. Glenn, RAND National Defence Research Institute, Monograph MG-551, 2007, p30
“Keke’s surrender was a truly interagency and joint military event. After extended negotiations, initiated by Ben McDevitt with a letter to Keke prior to RAMSI’s arrival and continued collectively by the Big Three (Warner, McDevitt, and Frewen) after arrival, Keke was persuaded to go offshore to the Australian navy’s Manoora, where he was placed under arrest without resistance.”
Not in Spirit, Letters to the editor, Army – the soldiers’ newspaper, 25 September 2003
“The August 28, 2003 edition of Army newspaper recently ran a photo of Harold Keke caged up in the back of a vehicle, and I wonder how this fits in with a request from the Department of Defence sent to media organisations in March this year. I realise that we are not at war with the Solomon Islands, but I do not think that the photo you showed was in the spirit of the Geneva Convention. Does the Department of Defence condone one set of rules for the civilian press and another for Army news?”
Gerard Corkeron (Ex-ARA), Narre Warren South, Victoria
“Army Editor’s Response: Harold Keke was arrested in relation to allegations of major crimes in the Solomons Islands. As the Australian-led RAMSI force was invited by the Solomons Islands Government to re-establish law and order, a state of war, which would see the invocation of the Geneva Convention articles governing depictions of prisoners of war, does not exist. Therefore, the photographs of Mr Keke, published in Army newspaper and provided by Defence on its free, public-access image gallery, are appropriate in depicting the work of RAMSI because Mr Keke is not a prisoner of war. He has been taken in custody because of serious allegations of criminal activity and therefore can be said to be helping the Royal Solomons Island Police with their inquiries. There are no conflicts with the Geneva Convention.”