SOLOMON ISLANDS MONITORING COUNCIL INVESTIGATES SHOOTOUT AT ALLIGATOR CREEK

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (August 22, 2000 - Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation/PINA Nius Online)---The Solomon Islands Ceasefire Monitoring Council has been briefed on the latest breach, which took place at Alligator Creek, east of Honiara, on Saturday night.

Reports say the Malaita Eagle Force and the Isatabu Freedom Movement were involved in a three-hour gun battle after the Isatabu Freedom Movement overran a Malaita Eagle Force bunker.

The Malaitans regained the bunker after the gun battle.

The co-chairman of the Ceasefire Monitoring Council, Sir Peter Kenilorea, told SIBC he went to investigate the incident yesterday and confirmed that it did happen.

Sir Peter said he briefed the Council today about the incident.

Sir Peter said he is concerned about the latest breach, especially when it is only days before the start of formal peace talks.

He added that it is really difficult when you place your trust in people to honor agreements and they fail.

But speaking to SIBC News by phone this afternoon, Isatabu Freedom Movement Eastern Command leader Andrew Te'e denied that his men were involved in any exchange of fire at Alligator Creek over the weekend.

Te'e said no Isatabu Freedom Movement Eastern Command members had been past the western side of Ngalimbiu since the cease-fire agreement was signed early this month.

Te'e said his men are committed to working towards peace. He said if it was true there was an exchange of fire at Alligator Creek on Saturday, it could have been between the Malaita Eagle Force and another group, but not his men.

(Background: The cease-fire in the Solomon Islands follows ethnic conflict which engulfed Guadalcanal. The capital, Honiara, has been under the control of a joint operation of the Malaita Eagle Force and elements of the paramilitary police field force. The Guadalcanal countryside is largely under the control of Guadalcanal's Isatabu Freedom Movement. The ethnic conflict began when Guadalcanal militants began trying to drive out Malaitans, claiming they dominated government and business and were taking over Guadalcanal land.)

Meanwhile, the Ceasefire Monitoring Council is yet to meet with the Isatabu Freedom Movement Western Command to investigate the breach of the cease-fire agreement two weeks ago, when the Isatabu Freedom Movement killed a member of the Malaita Eagle Force west of Honiara. This resulted in retaliatory action by the Malaita Eagle Force.

Sir Peter says the Isatabu Freedom Movement Western Command has informed the Council that it is not yet ready for the meeting.

In other developments:

Solomon Islands has a new Commissioner of Police.

He is Morton Sireheti, who until a year ago was the Deputy Commissioner of Police.

He replaces New Zealander Rererangi Rangihika, who went overseas before the take-over of Honiara by the joint operation of the Malaita Eagle Force and elements of the paramilitary Police Field Force on June 5. He has not returned since the take-over.

Siriheti becomes the second Solomon Islander to hold the job, following two overseas appointments in the past four years.

The Isatabu Freedom Movement said it would have been much better had the government appointed an overseas person to head the country's police force until peace is restored.

The Isatabu Freedom Movement Eastern Commander Andrew Te'e, while welcoming the appointment of Mr. Siriheti, said the government should appoint a neutral person from either Fiji or Vanuatu to look after the force until peace returns to Guadalcanal.

* The African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) Group Pacific ministerial delegation said it did not come with any ready made answers for the ethnic crisis on Guadalcanal but it wanted to talk with leaders on how the Solomon Islands could go forward.

The leader of the delegation and Papua New Guinea's Foreign Minister, Sir John Kaputin, made the comment when the delegation met with Guadalcanal Provincial Premier Ezekiel Alebua and several members of his executive at their temporary headquarters at Mbalasuna on the Guadalcanal Plains.

Sir John said his delegation members have seen for themselves the damage caused by the ethnic tension on Guadalcanal as they traveled from Honiara to Mbalasuna.

He said it is very clear that the situation in the Solomon Islands is very critical because exports of all commodities have either stopped or fallen dramatically.

Sir John added that his delegation's report on the situation is very important because it will be used by the European Union to decide on what assistance it can give to the Solomon Islands.

While briefing the delegation, Guadalcanal Premier Alebua told the visiting delegation that they have seen for themselves how his people have been affected by the ethnic crisis.

He emphasized that peace must return to Guadalcanal before there can be talk about any development programs.

Mr. Alebua reaffirmed that the people on Guadalcanal want peace to return to their island.

He said that his province was already working on a rehabilitation program that is expected to involve members of the Isatabu Freedom Movement in infrastructure projects such as construction of bridges, roads and clinics.

Mr. Alebua also called on the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force to maintain law and order in Honiara, pointing out that if the capital is not peaceful then there will be no peace in the rest of the country.

An SIBC staff member who traveled with the delegation to Mbalasuna reports that the delegation met with Isatabu Freedom Movement commanders and members along the road on the eastern side of the Ngalimbiu River. They were not carrying any arms that were visible.

The commanders denied any involvement in an incident during the weekend, which resulted in a three-hour gun battle between the Malaita Eagle Force and Isatabu Freedom Movement in the Alligator Creek area east of Honiara.

* The Malaita Provincial Government is working on a Customary Land Management system to resolve land disputes in the province.

Premier David Oeta said land remains the major obstacle to development both in Malaita and the country as a whole.

He said the solution to land disputes in Malaita must be a system of land management that can easily merge with the province's customary land tenure.

Premier Oeta said the province recognizes that tribes own customary land, and that land will remain the base of the people's subsistence living.

He said under the proposed land management system, customary land owning groups will be encouraged to use the existing land acquisition system to register their lands.

Mr. Oeta said the idea is to persuade landowning groups to form land trustee boards that will deal with investors who want to lease land for development.

He said the province will assist landowning groups that wish to make land available for development, with services to include land acquisition, physical planning and surveying.

* People are being invited to attend and contribute to a workshop on "State Government and Decentralization."

The University of the South Pacific Centre in Honiara is organizing the workshop.

Centre Director Julian Treadaway said the workshop will try to produce a working paper on the topic for the Solomon Islands Christian Association National Peace Conference this weekend.

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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