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SUVA, Fiji Islands (June 22, 1999 - PACNEWS)---The Solomon Islands Government is confident Fiji’s former Prime Minister and current Chairman of Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs, Sitiveni Rabuka, will be able to bring the warring factions on Guadalcanal to the negotiating table with the Government.

Rabuka is the Commonwealth Secretary General’s special envoy to the Solomon Islands, charged with finding a possible solution to the racial tension that has claimed at least three lives.

Minister of State Alfred Sasako told PACNEWS from Honiara that since Rabuka's arrival, the Major General has commanded the respect of the people and has been able to meet with the militants.

"His presence alone has had a positive impact on the people. His meetings with militants at Tamboko village, on the southern part of Guadalcanal, have produced good results.

"I’m told the militants have promised to lay down their weapons. The Government has not been officially informed," Sasako said.

Sasako said Rabuka’s military background and his understanding of Melanesian ethnic issues would be useful in understanding the demands of the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA).

Today, Rabuka is understood to have met with Guadalcanal Premier and former Solomon Islands Prime Minister Ezekiel Alebua. The outcome of the discussions has not been made public.

He later traveled to the eastern part of the island, where the country’s largest palm oil plantation is situated.

Last week, the plantation, owned by the Commonwealth Development Corporation and the Solomon Islands Government, was closed because of the escalating racial tension. Two thousand workers have fled their homes, waiting for calm before returning to work.

Rabuka is believed to be attempting to meet with the leader of the militants, Joseph Sangu. The Government is assisting him in getting in touch with the militant group.

Addressing a press conference in Honiara, Rabuka said his initial meeting with young militant groups showed these young people are willing to lay down their arms, but they want an assurance from the Government that they will be granted amnesty.

The special envoy said he would take the matter up with the Solomon Islands Cabinet.


HONIARA, Solomon Islands (June 22, 1999 - PACNEWS)---The Commonwealth’s Special Envoy to the Solomon Islands, Sitiveni Rabuka, has visited a village on the island of Guadalcanal to meet with militants of the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army.

The former Fiji Prime Minister is on a mission to the Solomon Islands to resolve the ethnic conflict between the peoples of Guadalcanal and Malaita provinces.

Rabuka visited Tamboko Village, outside the capital, Honiara, with the Catholic Archbishop of the Solomon Islands Adrian Smith, where he spoke to the people about his efforts to stand up for the rights of indigenous Fijians.

Although the leading figures of the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army were not present, a number of militants came out of the surrounding jungles to listen to Rabuka

Later today (June 22) Rabuka is expected to hold discussions with the Opposition Leader, Solomon Mamaloni, and the Premier of Guadalcanal Province, Ezekiel Alebua.

Rabuka said one of his roles is to recommend to the national Government, ways of reconciling the militants with other Solomon Islanders.

He said some young militants he spoke with were unsure about how they would be treated by the Government if they surrendered.

"On the part of the militants, they are still unsure what the Government will do if they kept their part of the bargain? And so far that fear is well grounded," Rabuka said.

"At the moment the Government has not indicated whether it is willing to forgive them. It is our duty to suggest to Government certain aspects of the law, certain recommendations they might need to look at and give confidence to these young people that are willing to do this. They are willing to lay down their arms and get on with their normal life. And we would like to facilitate that."

Meanwhile, a diplomatic row is looming between the Fiji Government and the Commonwealth Secretariat regarding Rabuka’s appointment as Special Envoy to the Solomon Islands.

At the center of the row is Fiji’s High Commissioner to London, Filimone Jitoko.

Fiji’s Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Tupeni Baba, has asked Jitoko to explain why he failed to inform the Government about the Commonwealth’s interest in appointing Rabuka.

Dr. Baba said he was also writing to the Commonwealth Secretariat to highlight the Government’s concern over the way Rabuka was appointed.

It is alleged the Commonwealth Secretariat approached High Commissioner Jitoko on the appointment, who then allegedly contacted Rabuka directly about the appointment.

However, Jitoko has denied there was any breach of diplomatic protocol.

"The Commonwealth Secretariat was trying to get in get in touch with Rabuka. As a matter of diplomatic protocol I called Rabuka and told him about the appointment," he said.

According to Jitoko, he sent a note to the Foreign Affairs Office in Suva informing the Government about Rabuka’s appointment.

However, senior Government officials claim the High Commissioner’s actions showed he had no regard for the new Government. They claim the approach from the Commonwealth Secretariat should have come through Fiji’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

"This warrants an explanation from Jitoko before further action can be taken against him," one official said.

The new Labour Government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry is questioning Rabuka’s appointment because of his two military coups in 1987.

"How can the Commonwealth Secretariat appoint such a man as Special Envoy to help resolve the ethnic conflict in the Solomon Islands?" the official asked.

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