UNREST GROWING AGAIN IN SOLOMON ISLANDS

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (August 1, 1999 – Agence France-Presse)---A shoot-out between militants and police in the Solomon Islands which left four dead could signal a return to civil war in the troubled Melanesian island state, diplomatic sources said Sunday.

Police in Honiara said Saturday their para-military Police Field Force (PFF) had clashed with a unit of the Guadalcanal Liberation Army, also known as the Isatambu Freedom Fighters, on Mount Austin, around five kilometers (three miles) from the center of Honiara.

Mount Austin is a popular tourist spot with its large memorial to the American dead of World War Two.

The militants are made up of indigenous Guadalcanal people who are aiming to drive all settlers from Malaita off their island, which hosts the nation's capital.

A State of Emergency is in force in the country which has seen about 10,000 Malaita refugees flee Guadalcanal.

There is no clear death toll in the conflict, which blew up late last year.

The conflict has had a major impact on the economy with the Solomon Islands Plantations, Ltd. (SIPL) forced to halt palm oil production. Its exports account for 20 percent of gross domestic product. The population of Honiara, made up mainly of Malaitans, is experiencing growing local food shortages as Guadalcanal people refuse to come into the city to sell in the market.

Informed sources say a group of Malaitan settlers from Honiara had gone to Mount Austin to work in their food gardens when they were confronted by a group of Guadalcanal men, naked other than their kabilato, the traditional loin cloth.

They warned the Malaitans off, who returned to Honiara and reported the sighting to the police.

A PFF unit, made up mainly of Malaitans, returned to the scene where they were apparently ambushed by the militants, who were armed with shotguns and .22 rifles.

The militants also believe they are magically immune to enemy bullets. However, the PFF members are armed with M16 automatics and three militants died instantly and a fourth died while on the way to a hospital.

Police say there may have been other militant casualties. The PFF suffered no casualties.

The gunfight early Sunday morning followed a police raid on a militant camp in West Guadalcanal where arms were seized.

Commonwealth envoy Sitiveni Rabuka, Fiji's former Prime Minister, had negotiated a peace deal between militants and the central government and further talks were due in east Guadalcanal Monday. These are aimed at getting SIPL operational again.

However, sources say there is no real peace yet with Malaitans in Honiara and Guadalcanal people in the countryside.

Rumors every so often create panic among Guadalcanal people as stories circulate that Malaitan men are about to launch payback raids. So far there has been no sign of Malaitan revenge.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/

COMMONWEALTH ENVOY RABUKA PLANS URGENT TRIP TO SOLOMON ISLANDS

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (August 3, 1999 – Radio Australia)---The Commonwealth's Special Envoy to the Solomon Islands, Sitiveni Rabuka, is planning an urgent visit Honiara, amid reports that militants on Guadalcanal Province are not complying with the Honiara Peace Accord which he brokered in June.

Solomon Islands police shot and killed four militants on Saturday in a clash with members of the Isatambu Freedom Fighters, which has been calling for the expulsion of Malaitans from their island.

Rabuka said he had been contacted by Solomon Islands Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa‘alu to make another trip to Honiara following recent clashes between the police and the militants.

He said he would try again to facilitate a dialogue with the Isatambu faction.

Rabuka said he would finalize his travel plans tomorrow.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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