CEASE-FIRE FAILS TO STOP LOOTING IN HONIARA

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By Duran Angiki

GIZO, Solomon Islands (August 4, 2000 – Wantok Press/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Solomon Islanders are now anxiously waiting for a positive outcome of the cease-fire, finally signed by one of the warring parties in the ethnic conflict on Guadalcanal.

This follows the failure of both the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) and the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) to honor similar cease-fires in 1998, 1999 and over the past seven months.

Early yesterday morning, the commanders of the IFM finally signed the cease-fire in a ceremony held at Aruligo, 40 kilometers (24 miles) west of Honiara.

The signing ceremony was held ten hours after the rival MEF militia group and the Solomon Islands government signed the same document on board Australia's MHAS Tobruk off Honiara on Wednesday afternoon.

But while the cease-fire was still in its infantry stage, it did not prevent criminal activities from being carried out by members of the MEF in and around east Honiara yesterday.

Eyewitnesses confirmed that countless members of MEF with vehicles torched and stripped down abandoned properties and empty houses at Foxwood, 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of Honiara.

They claimed to have seen MEF members transporting back to Honiara iron roofing, household furniture, boats, water tanks, timber and other valuable items.

Honiara Police confirmed the looting yesterday but would not identify the people, saying they only received reports that people of mostly Malaitan ethnic origin had carried out the looting.

A spokesman for one of the major logging companies that had operated a sawmill plant in the area revealed yesterday that the company had received reports about damage to its property.

He said MEF Police Joint Operation had informed the company that their sawmill plant with seven houses, included one building with six self-contained units, were either burned down or stripped to the ground.

The spokesman said the company would not be able to assess and determine the cost of the damage because the area was not safe for their staff to visit.

Foxwood had been under IFM control until June 15, when the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) captured it after fierce fighting that resulted in the deaths of six IFM members.

Since the MEF took over the area, it had torched down 25 private houses and stripped down to the ground countless properties.

But the recent criminal activities, carried by members of the MEF, did not deter the Solomon Islands government’s efforts to get the warring militia to implement the two-day-old cease-fire.

Deputy Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza, who accompanied the document to be signed at Aruligo, described the occasion, which took place at about 1:30 a.m. yesterday, as a "big ceremony."

He said the agreement was signed by IFM spokesman Henry Tobani and the militia commanders - Andrew Te‘e, Harold Keke, Joseph Sangu and George Gray.

MEF spokesman Andrew Nori, in a message broadcast through national radio, assured parents of his fighters that his boys were going to return home.

He said the MEF presence in Honiara would be downsized to be consistent with the spirit of the peace talks and as a way of building confidence.

Nori said the downsizing did not mean discharging of soldiers but the boys were only going on leave pending the completion of the planned peace talks.

IFM supreme commander Andrew Te‘e said, in an earlier media statement, that he would sign the agreement, as that was the wishes of most Solomon Islanders.

Title -- 2886 SOLOMON IS: Ceasefire fails to stop looting in Honiara Date -- 4 August 2000 Byline -- Duran Angiki Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Wantok Press, angiki_dp@solomon.com.sb, 3/8/00 Copyright -- Wantok Press Status -- Unabridged

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