SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police will stay in the Solomon Islands to provide security for a regional sporting event in November and national elections in 2024, the Pacific Island nation's government has said.
The number of officers will increase before November's Pacific Games, when 5,000 athletes from two dozen nations are expected to arrive, according to a statement on Solomon Islands Broadcasting's Facebook page posted late on Friday.
China, which has also stepped up its policing cooperation with the Solomon Islands, donated and constructed the Pacific Games stadiums.
The island nation made a formal request to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Aug. 4 to extend the Australian police presence until June 2024 to cover the election, the statement said.
"Prime Minister Sogavare said the security support needed for both events is huge and Australia's affirmative response will definitely fill security gaps leading up to, during and after the two important event," the statement said.
Discussions with Australia, a major aid partner with a long-standing security relationship with the Solomon Islands, would continue on a "comprehensive security partnership beyond June 2024", the statement added.
The Australian police are part of an international security contingent, which includes Fiji and New Zealand, that arrived in December 2021 to quell anti-government riots, and was due to leave in December 2023.
During a visit by Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles in June, when he offered policing support for next year's election, Sogavare called for a review of a 2017 security treaty between the two nations.
While in Beijing in July, Sogavare upgraded a policing deal with China to cover community policing and cyber security, prompting concern from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, who called for transparency over the proposed Chinese security role.
China stepped up its funding for infrastructure after Sogavare switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, and the Solomon Islands last year signed a security pact with China, raising concern in Canberra and Washington about Beijing's naval ambitions.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)