GUADALCANAL REBELS AGREE TO ATTEND SOLOMON ISLANDS PEACE TALKS BUT RIVALS

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STAYING OUT

By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (April 30, 2000 Agence France-Presse)---Guadalcanal militants who sparked a near civil war in the Solomon Islands have agreed to attend peace talks later this week but their rivals, and a mysterious hit squad called the "Seagull Group," are staying out, diplomatic sources said Sunday.

The agreement by members of the Isatambu Freedom Fighters (IFF) to attend may save the Australian backed talks ahead of plans later in the year for talks in New Zealand.

Commonwealth Special Envoy Sitiveni Rabuka, the former prime minister of Fiji, arrived in the Solomons Sunday while his deputy, Ade Adefuye of Nigeria, was en route from London after persuading the IFF to attend.

The talks will take place beginning May 4 in Buala, the capital of Isabel Island, considered a neutral venue.

In what is part of a 60-year-old dispute indigenous people of Guadalcanal, host to the capital Honiara, resent the presence of migrants from neighboring Malaita.

Just over a year ago IFF was formed, launching a guerrilla campaign which has seen at least 40 people killed and up to 20,000 Malaitans driven out of the countryside around Honiara. Most of the refugees are now on Malaita.

Earlier this year militant Malaitans in Honiara formed the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) amidst suspicions that its members were mainly members or ex-members of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

IFF earlier this month refused to attend the Isabel talks fearing that it would provide the police a chance to arrest them.

Sources say Adefuye will personally guarantee their delegation's safety, flying in with them and Rabuka.

MEF are still refusing to attend.

In the latest twist, however, the regional news agency PACNEWS reported that the Solomon Islands Opposition Leader, Manasseh Sogavare, has called for the resignation of Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa‘alu.

Sogavare said there is firm evidence that Ulufa‘aulu, a Malaitan, has established the Seagull Group which he said was "consisting of questionable characters outside of the police force and bankrolled it with public funds to get rid of the Malaita Eagle Force."

The Solomons is also providing for an unusual turf war between Australia and New Zealand.

The Isabel talks are being supported by Canberra, seemingly over the opposition of Wellington, which is taking no role in them.

New Zealand, in turn, wants to hold peace talks in New Zealand similar to talks three years ago, which ended the civil war in the neighboring island of Bougainville. Australia is not taking any role in the planned July talks in New Zealand.

However, these will only go ahead after the Commonwealth has received the reports of joint committees set up to recommend how to deal with missing persons and lost property.

They may report in June.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/ 

 

CALL FOR SOLOMONS PM ULUFA‘ALU TO RESIGN

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (April 29, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Solomon Islands Opposition Leader Manasseh Sogavare has called for Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu to resign over his bungling of the country's ethnic crisis.

Mr. Sogavare said the Prime Minister Ulufa‘alu has established the Seagull Group, consisting of questionable characters outside of the police force, to eliminate the Malaita Eagle Force.

He said the Prime Minister knows this group will escalate the situation, not resolve it.

But a spokesman for the Prime Minister said only Parliament can remove a prime minister and the opposition has no right to call for Ulufa‘alu to resign.

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

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