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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (February 5, 2001 - Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation/PINA Nius Online)---Solomon Islands Police have burned down two homes in Kaibia, central Honiara, believed to have been occupied by members of a criminal gang.

A reliable police source told SIBC News the incident occurred Saturday afternoon.

It was part of a continuing police operation to curb the high level of crime in Honiara, the source said.

The source said police confiscated several items, including TV and computer equipment, believed to have been stolen by the gang, before setting the two houses on fire.

The source said members of the gang fled before police arrived.

Since the Rapid Response Unit operation began last week, police have raided several locations and detained several people believed to be responsible for the recent wave of criminal activities in Honiara.

Current problems in Honiara are criminal and not a return of ethnic tension, the Solomon Islands Peace Monitoring Council said last week.

Chairman Sir Peter Kenilorea said the criminals will be dealt with by the police.

The Police Rapid Response Unit was reported to be going out in full force during the weekend to counter criminal activities in the capital.

A statement from the Peace Monitoring Council said criminal activities of the past fortnight culminated with two armed robberies and a shoot-out in the center of town.

Sir Peter said former militant leaders are trying to calm the situation.

He said the leaders have assured the council that there is no tension between the two former militia groups, the Isatabu Freedom Movement and the Malaita Eagle Force, and the Townsville Peace Agreement process is still intact.

He said the council believes that disputes over payment demands may be behind recent criminal incidents.

Meanwhile, Sir Peter reiterated that the incidents highlight the need to get guns out of the community.

A statement from the Office of the Police Commissioner warned that the Rapid Response Unit will use all necessary force to counter criminal activities.

The Commissioner's office admitted that criminal activities had risen during the past several weeks, with those involved mostly armed.

Hundreds of high-powered weapons have not been surrendered despite the Townsville Peace Agreement.

The Commissioner's office warned civilians to be extra cautious.

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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