HONIARA, Solomon Islands (October 3, 2000 - Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation/PINA Nius Online)---Malaita Eagle Force spokesman Andrew Nori has denied reports that he threatened a local journalist, Duran Angiki, and members of his family.

Mr. Nori called a news conference in Honiara and said: "I deny these allegations. At no time have I made any telephone calls to any journalists, including Angiki or any member of his family, issuing threats against them. I challenge Amnesty International to state the date of my telephone calls, to whom I made the calls and nature of the threats made against them."

Mr. Nori, a lawyer, also again pledged his total commitment to media freedom.

Reporters san frontieres claimed that on September 27, Mr. Nori phoned Mr. Angiki at his home, threatening him with "reprisals" after the publication of an article on two web sites stating Mr Nori had received money from the authorities. RSF said Mr Nori told Mr. Angiki that he and his family "were in danger" if he failed to withdraw his articles and write a letter of apology.

Mr. Nori said contrary to Amnesty International's claims it was Mr. Angiki who rang him on Thursday, September 28 upon learning from other sources that he and members of his families may be at risk.

Mr. Nori said during their telephone conversation, he advised Mr. Angiki about the dangers of making provocative, sensational and false statements on the current crisis, especially when he is laboring to bring members of the Malaita Eagle Force to the negotiation table to achieve peace in the Solomon Islands.

Mr. Nori also told Mr. Angiki about the false allegations in Mr. Angiki's reports that the government had paid Mr. Nori one million dollars for work done for the Malaita Eagle Force.

Mr. Angiki, who graduated from the University of the South Pacific journalism program last year, has been reporting about events in Honiara from Gizo, the capital of Western Province.

Mr. Angiki's allegation was that Mr. Nori charged the government one million dollars for preparing claims for the Malaita Eagle Force for property losses and damages.

Mr. Nori denied charging any fees for preparing the submissions on behalf of displaced Malaitans.

Mr. Nori said that the only fees he charged the government was $300,000 dollars for legal services which related to work done advising the Malaita Eagle Force to return the Solomon Islands to democratic governance and the recent cease-fire talks.

Clause eleven of the Cease-fire Agreement obligates the government to pay for professional law services of both the Malaita Eagle Force and the Isatabu Freedom Movement, he said.

Mr. Nori re-assured the Solomon Islands public on behalf of the Joint Operation that there is unrestricted freedom of the media in the country.

Mr. Nori re-affirmed the statement he made on June 5th -- after a Joint Operation of the Malaita Eagle Force and police paramilitary elements took over Honiara -- that there will be unrestricted freedom of the media in the Solomon Islands.

And he encouraged local journalists to carry on with their reporting of the current events with responsibility and fairness.

He told reporters that in his honest assessment of what Mr. Angiki had been reporting is not professional pursuit of free journalism.

Mr. Nori said Mr. Angiki has been engaged in an anti-Nori and anti-Malaita Eagle Force false propaganda campaign which is likely to destroy the current volatile peace process.

Mr. Nori told reporters that from statements Mr. Angiki made at a conference held at the Commonwealth Youth Programme regional center in Honiara early this year, leaders of the Malaita Eagle Force classified him as a potential security risk to Malaitans.

Mr. Nori pleaded to those who dislike him personally and who see the Malaita Eagle Force as the worst evil not to character assassinate them until peace returns to the country.

(Background: A cease-fire in the Solomon Islands follows ethnic conflict which engulfed Guadalcanal, the island on which the capital, Honiara, is located.

Peace talks started aboard a New Zealand navy ship off Honiara, and are due to continue in Cairns, Australia, this month. The ethnic conflict began when Guadalcanal militants tried to drive out settlers from another island, Malaita, claiming they dominated government and business and were taking over Guadalcanal land.

Honiara has been under the control of a joint operation of the Malaita Eagle Force militia and elements of the paramilitary police field force. The Guadalcanal countryside is largely under the control of Guadalcanal's Isatabu Freedom Movement militia.)

In other developments:

* The ousted SIAC government was about to engage armed peacekeepers in Honiara when the June 5 takeover happened, it has been disclosed.

A statement from the Office of the Leader of Opposition revealed that final agreement for the Commonwealth Multinational Police Assistance Group to become an armed peace keeping force would have been in place after further consultation at the ministerial level.

But it didn't eventuate because of the June 5 incident in which the former prime minister, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, was forced to resign.

The statement added that the incident had put progress to peace many steps backward and worsened the conflict.

The Opposition made the clarification following comments by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that the previous government's approach to have neutral peacekeepers in Honiara had not followed protocols.

But the Opposition said the Commonwealth was engaged to mediate in the conflict because of the relative size of the Solomon Islands’ ethnic tension in the global context.

Meanwhile, the Opposition said in such a conflict, it was the practice of the Commonwealth and the United Nations Security Council to engage member states of the region to participate in solving such problems. Therefore, Australia and New Zealand played active roles in trying to solve the ethnic tension on Guadalcanal.

The statement confirmed that the former government had asked for armed peacekeepers and not peace monitors, as there was no peace initiative agreed to then, but instead only 20 peace monitors were sent in.

* Government leaders and other institutions in the country have been warned not to become obstacles against initiatives taken by the Sogavare government to solve the ethnic conflict.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, Allan Kemakeza issued this warning following recent allegations by the leader of opposition, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, who said the government was turning back from peace and was blaming others for the difficulties it was facing.

In a press release, Mr. Kemakeza said it's a mistake to believe government was hitting against a brick wall in its drive to achieve peace in the current conflict.

Mr. Kemakeza explained that the government's peace policy based on justice before peace is deeply rooted in the principles of Melanesian conflict resolution.

He said while his government appreciates the former SIAC government's strategy based on peace before justice, it would be naive for the government to apply the same principle after SIAC failed to produce any positive results.

Mr. Kemakeza said it would be wrong to believe that peace will easily fall into place without many unexpected hurdles along the way.

* The International Federation of Trade Unions has called on regional governments to assist Solomon Islands end the current ethnic conflict in the country.

Union representatives made the call at the federation's international conference held in Taiwan.

President of the National union of Workers, David Tuhanuku, represented the Solomon Islands at the conference.

Mr. Tuhanuku told SIBC News the Federation wants regional governments such as Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of China, Taiwan to assist the government and other organizations in the country to push ahead with initiatives already in place to find a lasting peaceful solution to the crises.

* Displaced persons in some of the more inaccessible parts of the Solomon Islands are currently being helped by the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, with seeds, gardening tools, fishing gear, food, medicines and other urgently needed relief goods.

An ICRC team based in Honiara last week assisted 252 people from Sikaiana Island, which saw its population being increased by over 40 percent due to the arrival of people fleeing the armed conflict on Guadalcanal.

Sikaiana, which only has very infrequent transport possibilities, was reached by the ICRC vessel "Princess II" after a 24-hour trip through rough seas.

One of the ICRC team members since August, Doctor Hermann Oberli, worked for several years at Honiara Hospital before returning to the Solomon Islands as a Red Cross surgeon.

During the Red Cross visit to Sikaiana Dr. Oberli treated 25 patients, almost 10 percent of the total population, and was told that he had been the first visiting medical doctor for many years.

ICRC delegates working together with staff and volunteers from the Solomon Islands Red Cross Society are currently also carrying out relief operations in the Marau Sounds and along the "Weather Coast" of Guadalcanal.

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: 

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