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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Solomon's government lawyers say Australia should pay 2006 April riot damage

By Evan Wasuka, Honiara

Lawyers for the Solomon Islands government say Australia must indemnify the Solomon Islands government for any possible costs Honiara may be liable for as a result of riots in 2006.

This call was part of a submission from the attorney general's chambers delivered to the Commission of Inquiry investigating the Honiara riots.

Two years after Honiara was hit by two days of rioting that inflicted damage worth more than $179 million Solomon dollars, the issue of liability continues to be a thorny issue. At the heart of the controversy is who should be held responsible for damages, most of which was suffered by the Chinese community whose businesses were looted and burnt.

In a submission to the Honiara riot inquiry, government lawyer Katalaini Ziru says that under international law, liabilities incurred by Solomon Islands should be indemnified by RAMSI.

Mrs Ziru said the liability should be borne specifically by the former head of RAMSI, James Batley and Australians who were responsible for security.

"The head of the visiting contingent must, under international law, indemnify the SIG against any funding by the Commission of any failure to manage and control security, because there are insufficient police and soldiers who are capable of effectively responding to the security situation of April 2006.

"Mr Chairman, I would have refer to our Section 17 provision of the FIA, which includes the country. It is the country, Australia, who nominate the appointment of Mr Batley, not as an individual, but in his capacity as the coordinator of the visiting contingent.

"Mr Chairman we submit that having discussed the points that I've raised earlier, this opinion, this submission concurs with the Council for the Assisted Mission that that - and I quote, the question about ultimate political responsibility must lie with the government of Australia, because under the Townsville treaty it had control of who was appointed as the coordinator of the visiting contingent and who are the officers in charge of the PBF and the CTF. Mr Chairman, we submit that in light of the above, should the commission find that the SIBF, hence the SIG is liable for damages, we respectfully submitt the visiting contingent must indemnify the SIG and thus be liable for payment of damages claimed by victims of the April 2006 riots."

In response to government lawyer Katailani Ziru, Inquiry Commission chairman Brian Brunton stressed that there's danger in this Commission even approaching the subject of saying that certain people are liable in damage but should be left for the High Court to decide on.

The Commission of Inquiry will decide if the submission from the attorney general's chambers will be adopted in its final report which is expected to be published early next month.

Source: ABC Pacific Beat

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