PLEA FOR CRISIS FAIRNESS IN SOLOMON ISLANDS

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By Duran Angiki

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (September 1, 1999 – Asia-Pacific Network/Wansolwara)---The Australian government and other overseas aid agencies are being warned to be cautious about giving financial assistance to displaced Malaitans on Guadalcanal without knowing the real situation in the troubled island of the Solomons.

"It is unacceptable for donor countries, especially Australia, to help only one group of people and neglect others," said Daniel Sande, a former national coordinator of the Solomon Islands Scripture Union.

"Not only are the Malaitans suffering from this ethnic tension. There are about 50,000 innocent Guadalcanal people who are also displaced and suffering from this crisis, and they don't even get any assistance from aid agencies or the Australian government."

Mr. Sande, who now resides in his home village in North East Central Guadalcanal, said the Australian government commitment, to grant more than AUS$ 2 million (US$ 1.3 million) for displaced Malaitans on Guadalcanal moving back to Malaita, should be reconsidered. Last month, the Australian government announced its annual aid to the Solomon Islands had been increased from SI$ 20 million (US$ 4.07 million) to SI$ 40 million (US$ 8.14 million).

The Australian Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cathy O'Sullivan, revealed her country's commitment to the Malaitan province in a recent visit to the provincial capital, Auki, in July. She said that the assistance would cater for the rehabilitation of the people and other urgently needed facilities.

More than 20,000 Malaitans have been displaced on Guadalcanal Island where the activities of a Guadalcanal ethnic group known as the Isatabu Freedom Fighter (IFF) has been carrying out an "ethnic cleansing" of Malaitans living on the island.

Mr. Sande said while such assistance had been appreciated, there were many Guadalcanal people who had also experienced similar problems but did receive the same kind of assistance.

Since the ethnic tension flared-up in March this year, many innocent Guadalcanal families have had to vacate their homes and live in the jungle or with families in other villages for fear of criminal attacks or revenge by Malaitans.

He added that rural Guadalcanal people were constantly living under threat while facing problems ranging from shortages of basic medical supplies, soap, kerosene, cooking utensils and clothes.

For months prior to the intensifying of the ethnic tension, clinics and aid posts in and around Guadalcanal were virtually without medicines.

A chief and community church leader, Frank Tangiavoa, said the situation had been worsened by the current government's two-month-old state of emergency.

The ban had blocked supplies of basic medical supplies, foods and other services to various parts of Guadalcanal Island.

He said what he did not understand about the government's handling of the tension was while it had given assistance to the displaced Malaitans, it had failed to do the same for the innocent people of Guadalcanal.

Mr. Tangiavoa added that a clear example of the government's action toward the Guadalcanal problem was the granting of more than $2 million compensation to Guadalcanal province, with restrictions attached.

The compensation was paid in June this year by the national government as a settlement for the location of the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara, on Guadalcanal Island. The money was initially included in the IFF list of demands to the government.

The Solomon Islands government, headed by a Malaitan Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa‘alu, outrightly rejected the compensation demand in February this year, claiming that it did not recognize demands from "criminals."

Following the government's rejection of the demands, the IFF stepped up its activities on ethnic cleansing of Malaitans on Guadalcanal. The IFF action forced the government to amend its initial stand and it paid the money to Guadalcanal provincial authorities.

Mr. Tangiavoa said that while displaced Malaitans were given the liberty to claim compensation from the government for property loss during the tension, the government dictated how Guadalcanal province should spend its $2 million.

These restrictions exemplified the government's failure to realize that rural Guadalcanal people were going through a tough time and urgently needed help.

He called on the Solomons government and foreign aid donors to assess the situation in Guadalcanal before committing themselves to providing assistance.

Mr. Tangiavoa said the Solomon Islands government and its developmental partners could not just "ignore the plight of innocent Guadalcanal people."

In a media statement released by the Prime Minister's Office on August 9, the Minister of State, a Malaitan, Alfred Sasako, said the Solomon Islands Government was not pro-Malaitan.

He said the government was for all Solomon Islanders and people should not be led by "false illusions and political manipulation."

The Minister of State made the clarification following strong accusation by the Guadalcanal province that the national government had been very biased in its dealing with the ethnic tension in the Solomon Islands.

Former Prime Minister and Premier of Guadalcanal Province, Ezekiel Alebua, said the government had been biased over the Guadalcanal conflict.

He said the recent killing by the Solomon Islands Police Force of four Guadalcanal militants was a clear manifestation of the government's attitude.

Since the ethnic conflict started six months ago, the police have killed more than 10 members of the militant group IFF in separate clashes on the island of Guadalcanal.

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