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Aussies deploy a rapid response coy to Solomon Islands


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Troops sent in after killing
By Misha Schubert, Mark Forbes
Canberra, December 23, 2004

A family photo of the Solomon Islands sniper's victim, Adam Dunning, with his mother Chris and father Michael.
Police to retain Solomons peace role
A bold young man mourned

Authorities have vowed to hunt down the killer of an Australian policeman.

A hundred crack troops will fly to the Solomon Islands today after the murder of an Australian policeman by a sniper.

A rapid response infantry company from the 2nd Royal Australian Regiment will be sent in from Townsville.

Defence Minister Robert Hill said the force would send a clear message to the "thugs" who killed 26-year-old Adam Dunning from Canberra "that we will not tolerate the murder of our police officers".

Forensic experts led by Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty and Justice Minister Chris Ellison have already arrived in the capital, Honiara.

Mr Dunning, killed during a night patrol in Honiara, is the first fatality during the 17-month Australian-led intervention in the Solomons and the first Australian peacekeeper ever killed in a direct attack.

He died soon after being hit by two bullets from a high-powered, military-style rifle during a routine patrol in a four-wheel-drive.

Prime Minister John Howard vowed Australia would not retreat from the Solomons operation because of the shooting.

Advertisement"It is a reminder that, although the intervention has been remarkably successful, it is still dangerous," Mr Howard said. "The mission goes on, undeterred, unrestrained, unaffected by what's happened."

Solomons Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza said Mr Dunning had "sacrificed his life in the name of peace for this country. My Government and people condemn this barbaric act by a person who can only be described at best as inhumane and sick in the mind".

Governor-General Michael Jeffery and acting Labor leader Jenny Macklin also expressed horror at the attack.

Mr Keelty said Mr Dunning "was a brave and courageous young Australian, carrying out his duty on behalf of the people of Australia for the Solomon Islanders".

The shooting "had all the hallmarks of a sniper attack", he said. The sniper fired six bullets at the police car while the driver was making a three-point turn. Four bullets pierced the car from behind, two of them hitting Mr Dunning in the back, killing him almost immediately.

It was unclear whether the shooting was premeditated, but officials say it may be linked to a sniper attack on a car carrying two Australian police in October. Two suspects from that attack - in which one officer was injured by shattered glass - remain at large. Another man, John Ross, has been charged with two counts of attempted murder after handing himself in earlier this month.

Ross, a former member of the Malaitan Eagle Force militia, was also wanted for a series of criminal offences.

Remnants of the MEF, which took control of the capital during four years of ethnic violence and lawlessness, resent the Australian presence in the Solomons.

The co-ordinator of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, James Batley, said Mr Dunning's sacrifice would not be allowed to go to waste.

"The officer involved has paid the ultimate sacrifice for our efforts to return peace and security to Solomon Islands," Mr Batley said.

"Clearly there are still people interested in holding the nation to ransom," he said, "and there are still guns out there."

He called on locals to volunteer information about "this terrible crime" and details of anyone still holding guns.

The Australian commander of the Participating Police Force, Sandi Peisley, vowed that police would not rest until they had solved the crime.

"It was a very serious incident and the police will continue with their investigations until all suspects have been charged," she said.

Solomon Islands Police Commissioner Bill Morrell said he was determined the culprits would be caught.

"It was a routine patrol checking on various premises and they came under fire. They were just manoeuvring and suddenly the vehicle received shots and one of the officers was wounded," Mr Morrell said.

Only about 150 Australian police and fewer than 100 non-combat troops remain in the Solomons. When the intervention began in July 2003, more than 2000 soldiers and police were deployed.