POLICE TELL OF GIZO KILLING; PARLIAMENTARIANS QUIT GOVERNMENT

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (June 12, 2000 - Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation/PINA Nius Online)---Police in Honiara have confirmed that one person was killed by a group of 37 armed men when they took control of the Western Province capital Gizo early yesterday.

Police told SIBC News they suspect that the armed group is also responsible for the raid at Taro Police station in neighboring Choiseul province Saturday morning.

Telecommunications to Gizo were shut down shortly after the armed take-over.

Police reported that the armed men, some believed to be Bougainvilleans, have declared that they are protecting Western Province against the Malaita Eagle Force.

Police said some of the men were armed with M16s.

Meanwhile, another report from Gizo said the armed men were looking for a man who made serious threats against Bougainvilleans and people of Western Province. The report said the person killed was the wrong person.

The same report quoted the Provincial Police Commander Western as denying that the incident is an armed take-over.

It said police are still in control of Gizo carrying out their normal duties, and Gizo is peaceful.

Police at Gizo have not been threatened by the armed men and that they were there merely to maintain a security presence.

(The Solomon Islands conflict escalated dramatically last Monday. The militant Malaita Eagle Force and elements of the paramilitary Police Field Force took over Honiara, which is on Guadalcanal, and seized prime minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu.)

(It followed 19 months of ethnic unrest that began when Guadalcanal militants, now known as the Isatabu Freedom Movement, began forcing settlers from the island of Malaita to leave Guadalcanal. They said Malaitans dominated business and government jobs and were now moving in on the land of the Guadalcanal people. The Malaita Eagle Force was then formed by Malaitan men and has been fighting the Isatabu Freedom Movement and demanding compensation for the thousands of Malaitans forced to leave because of the conflict.)

In other developments:

* MINISTER, BACKBENCHERS QUIT

It was confirmed one cabinet minister and three Government backbenchers have withdrawn their support from the Solomon Islands Alliance for Change government.

In his resignation letter addressed to the Governor-General, the Minister for Indigenous Business Development, David Holosivi, said the image and noble principles for which members of SIAC collectively pledged to uphold have been tarnished.

Three SIAC Government backbenchers also tendered their resignations as members of the Solomon Islands Alliance for Change government. They are MP for Shortlands Albert Laore, MP for East Malaita Alfred Maetia and MP for South Guadalcanal Victor Ngele.

SIBC News understands that the resignations were in light of the no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Ulufa'alu to be debated Thursday.

* PM MOVES OUT

Prime Minister Ulufa'alu and his family have moved out of the official Prime Minister's residence at Lengakiki in Honiara.

When an SIBC reporter visited the residence yesterday, the gate was locked and there was no sign of anybody in the residence.

But the national flag was still flying in the compound and one of the Prime Ministerial official vehicles was parked in the garage.

The Office of the Prime Minister told SIBC that Mr. Ulufa'alu had meetings until Saturday night but was not at the Caucus meeting yesterday morning.

His Office could not confirm to where he had moved.

However, Mr. Ulufa'alu had earlier indicated that he was intending to send his family to his home village in the Langalanga Lagoon, Malaita Province.

Mr. Ulufa'alu had been held under heavy armed guard by members of the Malaita Eagle Force after the operation to take over Honiara early Monday morning.

He was released from the heavy armed guards on Thursday to the VIP Close Protection Unit.

In an interview with SIBC before he left Honiara earlier yesterday, the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer said the Malaita Eagle Force leader, Andrew Nori, had assured the Commonwealth ministerial delegation that Prime Minister Ulufa'alu would be safe.

* PUT DOWN GUNS, GOFF PLEADS

Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Phil Goff, urged those making decisions in the Solomon Islands to return to the negotiating table and put down their guns.

He said this was the path to the future.

Mr. Goff told SIBC before he left earlier yesterday what is happening in the Solomon Islands could become a repeat of what happened across the border on Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.

He said even with nine years of war the guns never solved anything on Bougainville but only destroyed the economy, the infrastructure and the hopes of children who never got to school.

Mr. Goff questioned why would Solomon Islanders like to follow what happened on Bougainville.

* INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS STILL SUSPENDED

International flights to Henderson Airport in Honiara are still suspended.

Solomon Airlines says international flights are still suspended as insurance underwriters are refusing to cover any aircraft coming to Honiara because of the escalating tension.

However, the airline's domestic services are back to normal.

* RESTRICTIONS ON MONEY

The tension in the Solomon Islands has forced the Central Bank to put restrictions on the purchase of foreign currency.

Up to Tuesday last week commercial banks had the authority to approve applications to approve the purchase of foreign currency.

But from Wednesday last week the authority has been reduced and commercial banks were only able to approve applications of up to five thousand dollars.

The measure had been taken to prevent anyone sending large amounts of money overseas anytime.

Previously commercial banks could approve the purchase of foreign currency up to 25-thousand dollars.

* MORE EVACUEES

More foreign nationals were evacuated earlier today aboard two New Zealand Airforce aircraft.

Earlier today the international terminal at Henderson airport was busy with the arrival of a New Zealand Airforce Boeing 727 aircraft and later on a Hercules.

The 727 aircraft evacuated 90 people, including 54 New Zealanders and Australians, to Auckland. The rest were Americans, Fijians, Malaysians and other foreign nationals.

Another 60 foreign nationals were evacuated to Brisbane by the Hercules.

More are expected to be evacuated in the next day or so with the arrival of the Australian navy vessel, the Manaora, in Honiara.

The Australian and New Zealand High Commissions have requested their citizens in the provinces to find their way to Honiara to be evacuated.

For additional reports from the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation.

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

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