Stifling humid heat chokes the air in the small
Honiara police club where more than 500 Chinese have taken refuge after rioters
in the Solomon Islands forced them to flee their burning homes and businesses.
"It's very horrible," said 27-year-old Winnie Mae, whose shop was burnt down.
"All my family came here so we would be safe. More than half of the people here
want to go back to China, they are scared this will keep happening."
Australia, New Zealand and Fiji have committed 360 extra troops and police to
the Solomons to prevent further violence after looters on Tuesday ransacked the
capital Honiara in protest against the election of Prime Minister Snyder Rini.
Rioters said Rini's new government would be influenced by local Chinese
businessmen and the Taiwan government, which the Solomons recognises
Honiara's Chinatown was destroyed in the rioting and looting, with buildings
burnt to the ground, forcing some Chinese to jump from windows and flee across a
Beijing asked the Solomons to protect its nationals and has
warned Chinese tourists not to visit the nation, a chain of 992 islands covering
1.35 million sq km (520,000 sq miles) of ocean.
"Our sympathies go out to the Chinese community who have bore the brunt of
the problem," Rini said on Friday at his first news conference since being
elected. "I want to assure you that my government will do its upmost best to
Chinese businesses play a major role in the economies of several South
Pacific island countries, as they do in Southeast Asian nations, and have been
hit by violent protests over the years by islanders angry at economic disparity.
The Chinese number just a few thousand in the Solomons' 550,000-strong
CHINESE REMAIN SCARED
Heavily armed foreign troops and a night curfew have brought calm to Honiara,
but many Chinese remain homeless and scared.
The makeshift Red Cross shelter inside Honiara's police compound has been
inundated with Chinese families, many of whom have lived in the Solomons for
more than a decade. They feared for their lives when rioters turned on them.
"There is nowhere else for them to go and some of them are just running in
with that they're wearing," said Solomon Islands Red Cross Deputy Secretary
General Nancy Jolo.
Parents hold sleeping children in their arms, waving
pieces of cardboard to keep them cool. Outside a group of Chinese children play
football with local children who squeezed through a gap in the high fence
surrounding the police compound.
One Chinese man, who has lived in the Solomons for more than 20 years, said
two Chinese officials were expected in Honiara from neighbouring Papua New
Guinea. To greet them, some Chinese painted a red banner reading "welcome our
heroes to save us".