MALAITA EAGLE FORCE DECLARES WAR; PM: WE FEARED FOR OUR LIVES

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (June 8, 2000 - Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation/PINA Nius Online)---The Malaita Eagle Force has declared an all out war against the Isatabu Freedom Movement of Guadalcanal.

Spokesman for the Malaita Eagle Force, Andrew Nori, confirmed this in an exclusive interview with SIBC News.

He said: "I am also sad to say that as of yesterday, the Malaita Eagle Force has publicly declared war on IFM. Not the people of Guadalcanal. So there is a heavy build up of people at the Alligator Creek area, equipment has been deployed to the area, and by tonight [Wednesday night] and tomorrow [Thursday], there will be a major offensive into Guadalcanal into the Foxwood area which may result in extending their roadblock, their bunkers as far as Foxwood."

Mr. Nori said he was sad to report that there were heavy casualties, a claim which could not be verified by any independent person. And while overseas reports claimed many people have died, SIBC News has not been able to verify the figures from reliable sources in the capital.

Attempts by the Red Cross Society to move into the area had also not been successful.

Mr. Nori said the Malaita Eagle Force sees this action as necessary to protect the city of Honiara and its citizens from the infiltration of the Isatabu Freedom Movement who he claimed were mounting an intense build up of men from both east and west ends of the capital.

Mr. Nori said intense fighting has been going on between the two groups and he anticipates fighting will escalate further.

He said the Malaita Eagle Force used a patrol boat to bombard the shoreline area east of the Alligator Creek while its ground forces pushed eastward from Henderson International Airport.

Mr. Nori, however, pointed out that the war is not against the ordinary people of Guadalcanal or anyone else other than members of the Isatabu Freedom Movement.

Asked how long the fighting will go on, Mr. Nori said until the Eagle Force is satisfied that the Isatabu Freedom Fighters are pushed further east and west to positions which no longer pose threat to the Honiara city citizens.

The offensive came after the Malaita Eagle Force and paramilitary police field force elements took over the armory at the Police Headquarters, took over the streets of the capital and placed Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu under heavy military guard.

(BACKGROUND: There has been ongoing unrest on Guadalcanal, where Honiara is situated, involving the Isatabu Freedom Movement from Guadalcanal and the Malaita Eagle Force, made up of people originally from the island of Malaita. Radio Australia says an estimated 50 people have been killed and thousands forced to flee their homes in the past 18 months.

The trouble began when Guadalcanal militants began trying to force Malaitan settlers out of Guadalcanal, saying Malaitans dominated government jobs and business and were now taking over the land of the Guadalcanal people.

The Malaita Eagle Force was established by Malaitan men to do battle with the Isatabu Freedom Movement. The Malaita Eagle Force has demanded compensation for the losses suffered by the Malaitans.)

In other developments yesterday:

* Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu said what happened on Monday was literally a coup and that he and his family feared for their lives.

But in his first interview since his house arrest early Monday morning by the Malaita Eagle Force and elements of the paramilitary police field force, Mr. Ulufa'alu said he was thankful for the guards who looked after him and his family.

He said: "Literally, it's a coup. Fortunate enough, I was asked to consider resigning within 48 hours, which is effective today [Wednesday]. However the leadership of the Malaita Eagle or of that joint operation have agreed to extend that deadline and also have agreed to remove the officers that were guiding me at the residence."

Mr. Ulufa'alu confirmed that he has not resigned but will wait for the meeting of Parliament to be convened next Thursday.

He also called on the two warring factions to return to their pre-coup positions so that peace talks could continue.

* The Guadalcanal Provincial Government is calling on the international community to assist in the political turmoil in Solomon Islands.

Speaking today Premier Alebua made the blanket call to all communities and countries who uphold the principles of democracy.

He also requested all provincial governments in the country to support the causes of upholding democracy in efforts to end all acts of aggression.

Meanwhile, Mr. Alebua urged Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu not to resign.

* Australia expressed deep concern at the use of the patrol boat Lata to bombard the shoreline along the Tenaru area east of Honiara.

Australian High Commissioner in Honiara, Dr. Martin Sharp, told SIBC that as the country which provided the patrol boat to the Solomon Islands, Australia is "extremely concerned" that the boat should be used in this manner.

* The Solomon Islands Council of Trade Unions urged the Australian and New Zealand Trade Unions not to impose trade sanctions against the Solomon Islands.

President of the council David Tuhanuku says the problem is being pursued through constitutional requirements and, if sanctions are introduced, the country will suffer badly.

But Mr. Tuhanuku adds that if the situation gets beyond the accepted norms of the international community and the trade unions, he may not be able to stop sanctions against the Solomon Islands.

Mr. Tuhanuku also appeals to the leaders of Malaita Eagle Force to be aware of the conditions of the unarmed people living in Honiara.

* The Solomon Islands Water Authority, SIWA, informed the public that the current water problem experienced in parts of Honiara is related to an electrical fault to one of the power lines to Kongulai.

* A New Zealand frigate was reported on standby outside the Solomon Seas to evacuate Australian and New Zealand citizens.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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