WOMEN IN SOLOMONS DEMAND PEACE

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (June 13, 2000 - SIBC/PINA Nius Online)---Women in the Solomon Islands are calling for the immediate restoration of peace in the country, reports the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation.

This was agreed to during a meeting attended by more than 50 women representing various groups in Honiara.

One of the organizers of the meeting, Vice President of the National Council of Women, Alice Pollard, explains that the women also want both the Isatabu Freedom Movement and the Malaita Eagle Force to stop fighting and lay down their arms.

The women also want democracy to be restored in the country.

They said unless these things are done, the country faces serious consequences, including aid cuts and embargo of cargo such as fuel, which is important for electricity, water and transport.

Mrs. Pollard said women and children are suffering and as mothers they plea for their sons and husbands to return home.

Following the meeting after mid-day yesterday, the women split into two groups, which went to meet the spokesman for the Malaita Eagle Force, Andrew Nori, and Isatabu Freedom Movement leaders.

The women will meet again tomorrow at nine o'clock, after which arrangements will be made to visit militant groups at their posts.

In a related event, the Malaita Eagle Force spokesman, Andrew Nori, has admitted that the country made a mistake by not involving women and community leaders at the start of the ethnic tension.

He was speaking late yesterday afternoon before a group of women who went to his home to express their views about the tension.

Mr. Nori said it was his belief that women should be involved in trying to find a peaceful solution to the crisis by visiting and counseling the militants.

He said more visits by women will remind militants that they too have mothers, aunts and sisters, and with the surrendering of arms peace will follow.

Meanwhile, Mr. Nori has promised to allow the women to visit tomorrow and share with Malaita Eagle Force members their concerns about the consequences of the ethnic tension.

Other recent events in the Solomon Islands, as reported by SIBC include:

* Tourism has suffered another blow in the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel, the country's biggest hotel, has told its clients that it is closing operations in Honiara. The hotel's Japanese management said since the evacuation of Australian, New Zealand and Canadian citizens from Honiara, Japanese citizens have also been advised to follow suit. It said because it can no longer maintain the safety of its guests they have been forced to close hotel operations, until peace is restored.

* Armed men who entered Gizo have personally assured Malaita villagers around Gizo that they are not at risk. SIBC's Rolland Gito reports from Gizo that the situation has been blown out of proportion by foreign media reports, which said that the armed men are in control of Gizo town. But Mr. Gito says that the men are only looking for certain individuals whom they say have threatened the Gizo residents and the armed men. Mr Gito also reports that the man killed was a result of his disturbing the armed men. Meanwhile, the situation in Gizo is reported to be calm and quite.

* SIBC reports that the Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu is alive and well. SIBC confirmed with the Office of the Prime Minister that Mr. Ulufa'alu was able to attend a meeting of the Cabinet in Honiara yesterday afternoon. Mr. Ulufa'alu and his family yesterday vacated the official Prime Minister's residence at Lengakiki, in Honiara. The VIP Protection Unit of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force is providing security for the Prime Minister.

* The evacuation of foreign nationals out of Honiara has been continued by their governments. Two New Zealand Air Force Hercules aircraft flew more than 140 foreign nationals from Honiara to Townsville in Queensland. The flight included some Japanese, Australians, New Zealanders, British, Asians and one citizen from the South American country of Peru who was working with the National Fisheries Development agency in Honiara. The evacuation operation was coordinated by the crew of a New Zealand frigate currently in Honiara. Most of the High Commissions and Embassies in Honiara are now calling on their citizens living in the provinces to travel to the capital in order to be evacuated.

* Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told media that Australia is willing to discuss the issue of compensation for those who were displaced from Guadalcanal. In an interview, Downer said Australia is ready to talk about this with the Solomon Islands government and rival parties on Guadalcanal, because it appreciates the difficulties faced by government in the compensation issue. But he warned "there isn't going to be a cent of compensation to anybody if the path of peace is abandoned."

"If the path of peace is chosen, then just compensation of course is something that is very much on the agenda, and the international community wants to help to resolve this problem, and that's obviously an issue that we would talk to various parties about," Downer said.

He also warned this compensation must not be achieved through violence and the destruction of democracy.

Mr. Downer said the people displaced on Guadalcanal certainly need fair compensation and this is something the Solomon Islands and Australia can make progress on.

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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