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Honolulu Star-Bulletin Honolulu, Hawai‘i

June 19, 2000

The issue: Fighting has broken out between feuding groups of Melanesian islanders in the Solomon Islands.

Our view: The invading American forces in World War II brought Malaitans with them to Guadalcanal to carry supplies. This may have led to the current conflict.

Long after American forces invaded the Solomon Islands in World War II to launch the island-hopping campaign that ended with Japan's surrender, some of the weapons they used in the Solomons are playing a role in an entirely different conflict.

When fighting erupted on the main island of Guadalcanal between the native Isatabus and the immigrant Malaitans, the Malaitans stole weapons from an armory. The Isatabus then resorted to foraging in the jungle for weapons left behind more than half a century ago by American GIs.

An Associated Press correspondent encountered a group of Isatabu soldiers at a roadblock outside Honiara, the capital. The soldiers displayed U.S. 61 mm shells strung together in bandoliers made from strips of rubber cut from tire inner tubes.

Most of the troops at the roadblock carried homemade single-shot rifles with hand-carved stocks and pipes fashioned into gun barrels -- no match for the M-16 machine guns wielded by the Malaitan rebels, who control the capital.

The crisis began when the Malaitans seized Honiara. This prompted the resignation of the prime minister, who agreed to let a 12-member committee of government and opposition leaders attempt to negotiate a peace settlement.

Many of the Malaitans originally came to Guadalcanal with the American forces, who used them to carry supplies. Thousands more followed after the war.

Now the Malaitans hold many of the best jobs in the capital. They are resented by the Isatabus, who say they are arrogant and aggressive and should go back to their home island.

The resentful Isatabus have been ousting the Malaitans from land in Guadalcanal. About 20,000 were forced to return to Malaita in the past 18 months. That led to the revolt by the Malaitans, who said the government was ignoring their plight.

The crisis has similarities to the situation in Fiji, where the prime minister and president have been forced to resign. However, in Fiji the conflict involves two distinctive groups, the immigrant Indians and the indigenous Fijians of mostly Melanesian stock. In the Solomons both warring groups are Melanesian, although that fact doesn't seem to have softened their animosity.

The Solomons were a British protectorate until they became independent in 1978. But it may have been the coming of the Malaitans to Guadalcanal with the American troops who liberated the islanders from Japanese occupation that planted the seed of the current conflict.

For additional reports from The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

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