25 July 2003

Operation Helpem Fren
Just after 9.40am, Australian infantrymen stepped off a landing craft from the Manoora and sloshed through the last few steps to Red Beach, which is dotted with rusting war refuse.

Businessman Peter Aufiu was among a small crowd of well-wishers meeting the troops.

"The public is excited. For too long we have had to look around before we talk because of a few people with guns who rely on intimidation," he said.

Mr Aufiu said former ethnic militia members who had engaged in crimes such as extortion, theft, murder and rape were likely to face payback after they were disarmed.

"They are more afraid of revenge from years of boxed-up anger by those they have harmed than they are of the intervention force," he said.

The Solomons Prime Minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza, thanked Australia and the other countries contributing to Operation Helpem Fren, saying he would pray for the safety of all involved.

The intervention force, including civilians to help the Solomon Islands provide basic services, is to be be built up to about 2500 in coming weeks.

Red Beach is where US troops first landed for the Battle of Guadalcanal.

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