Three bodies discovered in burnt-out building after days of unrest in Solomon Islands

The bodies of three people have been discovered in a burnt-out building in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, police said on Saturday, the first reported deaths after days of rioting in the restive city.

The charred bodies were discovered in a store in the Chinatown district, which has been a target for looters and protesters.

Police said forensic teams had launched an investigation and were still on the scene but that the cause of the deaths was unclear.

The streets of the capital remained relatively quiet on Saturday morning as residents began to assess the damage left by days of rioting.

A curfew had been imposed on the restive capital overnight after a third day of violence that saw the prime minister’s home come under attack and swathes of the city reduced to smouldering ruins.

Australian police officers, who arrived in the country late on Thursday following a request from the government, also joined their Solomon Islands’ counterparts on the streets to help restore order and protect critical infrastructure.

The explosion of violence is partly a result of frustrations with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government and chronic unemployment made worse by the pandemic.

Experts say the crisis has also been fuelled by long-standing animosity between residents of Malaita, the most populous island, and the central government based on the island of Guadalcanal.

The archipelago nation of about 700,000 people has for decades endured ethnic and political tensions.

Malaita residents have long complained that their island is neglected by the central government, and divisions have intensified since Sogavare suddenly switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019.

Songavare on Friday blamed foreign powers for stoking the unrest, without naming any.