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By Craig DeSilva

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (January 20, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat/PIDP/CPIS)---A group of Malaitans have admitted to stealing weapons from Solomon Islands police in an attempt to pressure the government to compensate victims displaced by the 18-month ethnic conflict on Guadalcanal.

The group, calling itself the Malaita Eagles Force, stole 34 rifles, ammunition and a grenade launcher Sunday night from the police station at Auki, the capital of Malaita province.

The group later contacted Honiara lawyer Andrew Nori to publicize their claims.

Nori said the group delivered him a note with the intention of having their demands published. Nori turned over copies of the note to the police and the local newspaper.

"It now appears that they are looking at a channel through which they can communicate officially with the public and the government, and unfortunately for us they have chosen to use the facilities of the Malaita Conference," Nori said.

Nori believes that the group has no intentions of "causing any damage or using the weapons in an offensive manner."

The group stole the weapons in order to give them a bargaining edge in its demands that the government compensate those who lost properties and lives in the Guadalcanal conflict, Nori said.

The government had earlier said it would not compensate those who were displaced in the region during the past two years.

"The ball is (now) in the government’s court to insure the compensation issues are reinstated on the peace agenda," he said. "I think the group will be emphasizing the point that (they) want compensation and nothing short of that."

Nori said he doesn’t anticipate any more serious escalations by the group for another week.

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Special Envoy to the Solomon Islands, Sitiveni Rabuka, is in Honiara to pursue the peace process in the Solomon Islands.

The meetings have so far focused on Malaitans who are still missing.

In an interview with journalist Mary-Louise O’Callaghan, Rabuka acknowledged that the peace process has been occurring at a slow pace with very little action.

"The Malaita community set a deadline on January 15 for the government to tell them whether their relatives were alive or not," O’Callaghan said. "That passed last week without any comment from the government or police. I think the (police) raid probably is directly related to that fact."

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

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