CHINA / National

Chinese fear for their lives in troubled Solomons
Updated: 2006-04-21 15:16

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 diplomatically.

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 nearby river.
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 help out."

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 population.


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".