MALAITA EAGLE FORCE WON'T ATTEND SOLOMON ISLANDS PEACE TALKS April 28,2000

MALAITAN EAGLE FORCE WON'T ATTEND SOLOMON ISLANDS PEACE TALKS

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (April 29, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Peace talks planned for next week have been plunged into doubt, after one of the two militant groups, the Malaitan Eagle Force, announced it would not attend.

The talks are due to be held next week at Buala on Isabel Island.

Radio Australia Pacific correspondent Kevin McQuillan reports.

"The Commonwealth's Special Envoy, Sitiveni Rabuka, has been planning tripartite talks involving the national government and the Guadalcanal and Malaitan provincial governments for the last two months.

"The two banned militant groups, the Isatambu Freedom Movement and the Malaitan Eagle Force, would attend as part of the official delegations of their respective provincial governments. But while the Isatambu Freedom Movement last night agreed to attend, the Malaitan Eagle Force says it won't.

"Malaitan lawyer Andrew Nori says its leadership wants guarantees that they won't be arrested, and for the force to be formally invited to the talks. He says this would require the governor-general to lift permanently or for the duration of the talks, the current ban on both groups. He says the request has been conveyed to the government, but there's been no response."

Meantime, Mr. Nori said peace talks could still be held, even though the Malaitan Eagle Force has refused to attend.

He said the Malaitans do not regard Buala as neutral territory, but talks could take place on either an Australian or a New Zealand frigate.

"From the security perspective, I would assume the two militant groups would prefer a meeting overseas. But any face-to-face discussions at a round table in my view, based on what I have learned from the Malaitan Eagle Force, may have to be convened overseas or, if in the Solomon Islands, on a frigate supplied by either Australia or New Zealand," Mr. Nori stressed.

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

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