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ABC/Radio Australia Report With ABC Correspondent Peter Mares January 20, 2000

Former Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka says there is a real fear that violence could break out once more in the Solomon Islands.

Rabuka is back in Honiara is his role as a Commonwealth appointed mediator in the conflict that broke out last year on the island of Guadalcanal.

An insurgent group called the Isatambu Freedom Fighters forced about 10,000 settlers from neighboring Malaita to flee the island.

There now are fears that the Malaitans may launch revenge attacks, spurred by anger at the government's refusal to compensate them for lost property.

Rabuka says he is worried about the situation, particularly after Monday's raid on a police post in which rifles and a grenade launcher were stolen:

RABUKA: There was a raid on a police station on Malaita. Some weapons and ammunition stolen, which has given grounds for us to worry about a possible retaliation by elements of the Malaitan people, who were perhaps displaced from Honiara and Guadalcanal. So we need to be very alert for any developments in this area.

MARES: There is a suggestion that this robbery of the police armory was carried out by a group calling themselves the Malaita Eagles Force. How seriously do you rate the threat of some kind of rebel group forming on Malaita to seek revenge?

RABUKA: It is a very likely development, but so far the Malaitan people have exercised restraint and we are - in fact -- I'm still hopeful the Malaitan leaders, and those who have been dealing with the displaced persons, will be able to convince this group, the Malaitan Eagles Group, not to take the law into their own hands, and let the police follow up on their operation to apprehend the armed offenders who are still carrying out sporadic armed offences around here.

MARES: Some of the grievances of the people of Malaita are that they haven't been compensated for property that they lost on Guadalcanal when they were forced to flee. Is there something that could be done to compensate them for what they did lose when they did flee Guadalcanal?

RABUKA: That is outside my mandate. It's outside my scope of my responsibility. That is something for the government to consider and I believe the government had already made a statement to say it is not obliged to make compensation payments -- for those who have lost properties and had their properties damaged or even had to forfeit land they had legally acquired in the face of the violence here on Guadalcanal.

MARES: So that could be quite a long-standing issue?

RABUKA: It will be.

MARES: And what about the process of disarmament on Guadalcanal itself? How well has that progressed in your view?

RABUKA: In my view it has not progressed well at all. It has been very disappointing in fact, and the reasons forwarded (are) that, the so called militants who are the armed people on Guadalcanal, were not prepared to lay down their arms when there was a possibility of armed retaliation by Malaitan elements -- and also with the police likely to carry out armed operations. But the police here are empowered to use whatever force is necessary to apprehend offenders, and if they are armed then it would be reasonable to expect that the police are armed in an attempt to apprehend them. The other threat was the Malaitan threat -- was also a very real threat -- and with the raid on the Auki police station, it's no longer just a hypothetical case. Now people -- the Malaitan elements -- are now properly armed.

(First broadcast January 20, 2000)

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

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