ABC , DAVID HARDAKER: And closer to home now, and flushed with the success of the Australian-led mission to the Solomon Islands, the Defence Minister has announced that the size of the Australian military component of the intervention force will be more than halved over the next few months.
The move is said to reflect improvements in law and order, both in the capital, Honiara, and throughout the rest of the country. And though 1,000 personnel will be leaving, there will still be a sizeable military presence, with Defence Minister Robert Hill conceding there are still challenges ahead.
Shane McLeod reports.
SHANE MCLEOD: The Solomon Islands Regional Assistance Mission, or RAMSI, will mark a significant anniversary later this week. On Friday it'll be 100 days that the intervention force has been on the ground, and for at least some of those who've been part of the effort, the anniversary means it's time to go home.
Colonel John Frewen is the Commander of the joint military force as part of RAMSI.
JOHN FREWEN: The ADF contribution here in the Solomons will gradually reduce, and that's because of the dramatic improvement we've seen in the security situation here since we arrived on 24 July. What that will mean over the next couple of months is that progressively we will cycle some of the units and capabilities here back to Australia.
SHANE MCLEOD: Already the naval presence is reducing, with the departure from Solomons water tonight of the transport and medical ship HMAS Manoora. The gradual departure of infantry troops over the next few months will see overall military numbers reduce, to around 800, made up by two companies, one all Australian, the other a joint pacific regional force.
Defence Minister Robert Hill.
ROBERT HILL: This is to demonstrate that the job is not yet complete, significant progress has been done, and as we said, we would leave a force commensurate with the difficulties that are faced, significant work still needs to be done.
SHANE MCLEOD: However, as the security situation continues to improve, it's likely that more and more functions of the military, particularly logistics and support, will be taken over by private contractors.
Colonel Frewen says the military has played an important role in providing the security that's allowed the police to do their job.
JOHN FREWEN: We came with a very strong military footprint, which I think was a very appropriated way to arrive here in the Solomons. It automatically took any sense of resistance out of people here in the Solomons who thought they might have liked to have taken that approach, and since then, you know, every activity that has gone has either had a military security presence or the military providing support to enable the police activities to occur.
SHANE MCLEOD: The draw-down of the military component puts renewed focus on the policing and civilian components of the intervention mission. They're areas where some believe sensitivities will increase in the months ahead, as line officers continue to work alongside Solomon Islands counterparts.
Opposition MP Alfred Sesako believes the RAMSI heads must take care to ensure that tensions don't develop.
ALFRED SESAKO: You have in the police, for example, that they felt that they'd been relegated, and therefore they are some grounds for resentment, if you like to call it that. A similar sort of thing is happening within the public service as well. What they need is not so much people from outside to occupy key positions within the pubic service, but certainly the resources that they need.
SHANE MCLEOD: Many of those resources are at present being devoted to planning for the Solomons 2004 budget. It's due to be brought down at Parliamentary sessions planned for next month, with the backing of RAMSI may actually be adhered to as a financial blueprint for the recovery of the nation's economy.
DAVID HARDAKER: Shane McLeod reporting there.