A delegation of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group arrived in Honiara today to investigate the crisis. A USP journalist student talks to a prominent Solomon Islands academic to background the issues.

By Joe Yaya © USP Journalism Programme

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (June 9, 2000 – Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---The Solomons Islands crisis is not so much a political fight for power between the opposition and government, as a struggle over socio-economic issues that have never been addressed by any government, says a leading academic.

Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka, a native Solomon Islander and lecturer in history and politics at the University of the South Pacific, told Pacific Journalism Online that these socio-economic issues go back to pre-colonial rule in the Solomons and after the country's independence in 1978.

"During the colonial days, one such issue was the decentralization of development. After the Second World War, much of the development in the Solomons concentrated around Honiara where much of the employment opportunities are.

"Apart from plantations and logging in the western Solomons, very little happened outside of Guadalcanal."

Ethnic tension began to escalate about 20 months ago on the island of Guadalcanal, where the capital Honiara is located, between the indigenous people of Guadalcanal and the Malaitans.

The Malaitans, who comprise about one-third of the population, generally dominate the elected government and the business sector around the capital Honiara.

Two armed rival factions have emerged in the forefront of the crisis, namely the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) and the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF). The IFM claims indigenous rights to land on Guadalcanal and wants the Malaitans to move out of the capital, Honiara, while the MEF is fighting for land and buildings left behind in Honiara by Malaitans who have fled Guadalcanal since the crisis began.

Since then, the Commonwealth has sent to the island a multi-national peace-monitoring group headed by Fiji Major General Sitiveni Rabuka.

Rabuka's efforts to bring the two parties to "peace talks" were unsuccessful.

The taking hostage of Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu four days ago by a joint para-military force of mostly Malaitans in the police force and members of the MEF, demanding his resignation, has taken the situation to the brink of a civil war.

Though Ulufa'alu is a Malaitan himself, the issue, according to Kabutaulaka, is not ethnic.

"When the crisis started, Prime Minister Ulufa'alu was demanded by groups in Malaita to give compensation to people who were displaced from Guadalcanal. These people are frustrated because the Ulufa'alu government has not addressed their demands over the past18 months."

The para-military force leader, Andrew Nori, has called for a special sitting of Parliament to activate the constitutional procedure for the removal of Prime Minister Ulufa'alu, who refuses to resign.

Nori is counting on his "fellow Malaitans" in Parliament to oust Ulufa'alu in a "vote of no-confidence."

"All these so called democratic processes are done under duress. It is done by force," stressed Kabutaulaka.

"A particular group of militia, no part of the state institution, have taken control of state property in the form of weapons, and are forcing the democratic process to take place."

Kabutaulaka also said that national and political leadership in the Solomons had been disappointing, with corruption and misappropriation of public funds prevalent in government offices.

He believes the intervention of an outside armed force would be the solution to the current political impasse, and bring an end to the violence.

"Only after that can we start the process of negotiating between the two parties. The people of Guadalcanal and Malaita have to come together, face each other, and talk about these issues."

The action by the para-military force has been strongly condemned by Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Great Britain, the Commonwealth and the European Union.

A delegation of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group arrived in Honiara today (Friday, June 9) to investigate the situation there. The delegation includes the Foreign Ministers of Botswana, Australia and New Zealand.

Kabutaulaka sees the Solomons being a member of the Commonwealth as important for the country.

"It's very important for us to be in the Commonwealth, in terms of international relations and trade."

Title -- 2773 SOLOMON IS: The real issues behind the crisis Date -- 9 June 2000 Byline -- Joe Yaya Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Pasifik Nius, 9/6/00 Copyright – PN Status -- Unabridged

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