Solomon Islands profile - Overview

  • 22 October 2015
  • From the section Asia
Map of Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands, a former British protectorate in the Pacific, is striving to recover from a civil conflict that brought it to the brink of collapse.

More than 90% of the islanders are ethnic Melanesians, but there has been intense and bitter rivalry between the Isatabus on Guadalcanal, the largest island, and migrant Malaitans from the neighbouring island.

Fighting broke out in 1998 when the Isatabu Freedom Movement began to force Malaitans out, accusing them of taking land and jobs. Around 20,000 people abandoned their homes, with many subsequently leaving Guadalcanal.

A rival militia group, the Malaitan Eagle Force, staged a coup in June 2000 and forced the then prime minister to resign, saying he had failed to deal with the crisis, which had left up to 100 dead.

An Australian-brokered peace deal was signed in October 2000. But lawlessness continued and an Australian-led peacekeeping force arrived in July 2003.

The force arrested many rebel commanders, collected thousands of illegally-held weapons and oversaw a slow return to order. The military contingent withdrew in 2013 leaving solely a policing mission.

The Australian intervention also provided for the appointment of foreign nationals to government posts and included financial assistance; Australia says it aims to make the country self-sustaining.

Prosperity remains elusive. Civil war left the country almost bankrupt, and post-election riots in April 2006 sent some of the advances made since 2003 up in smoke.

The World Bank says the Solomon Islands, one of the Pacific's poorest countries, has been hit by successive global food, fuel and financial crises. In 2009, with a fall in log exports and a major drop in international commodity prices, growth fell to just one percent.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Remnants of weapons and ammunition from World War 2 are still scattered around Guadalcanal

Economic hopes have been pinned on the resumption of palm oil production and gold mining.

The Solomon Islands chain consists of several large volcanic islands to the south-east of Papua New Guinea, as well as outlying islands and atolls. The terrain is mountainous and heavily forested.

During World War II the island of Guadalcanal saw some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific theatre as the US battled to wrest control of the territory from Japanese occupiers.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Solomon Islands includes several large volcanic islands as well as outlying atolls