VANUATU POLICE HOLD SOLOMONS CHURCH VESSEL OVER AFRICAN SOLDIER

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (June 6, 2001 - Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation/ Port Vila Presse/PINA Nius Online)---The Church of Melanesia vessel, the MV Southern Cross, is being held by Vanuatu police authorities on Santo.

The boat is being held until it takes back to the Solomon Islands a man who claims he is a soldier from the African country of Cameroon seeking political asylum. The vessel had transported the man to Vanuatu.

The man boarded the MV Southern Cross at Lata on its trip to Vanuatu for the consecration of the Bishop for the Banks and Torres groups of islands.

Efforts to obtain comments from the Church of Melanesia about the matter were unsuccessful. But sources told the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation that the boat was to have left Santo last Saturday for Honiara, when it was told it could not go without taking the African man.

Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation understands that police authorities from Santo have asked the church to make the necessary arrangements so that the ship will be allowed to leave.

Earlier, Port Vila Presse in Vanuatu reported that the man said he is a corporal in the Cameroon army and is seeking political asylum. He was arrested by Vanuatu immigration officials and detained by police in Luganville.

The man, named Josue or Joshua Banketo, speaking from the Luganville jail, told Port Vila Presse: "I don’t want to go back to Cameroon now. I love my country and I’ll go back if the government changes tomorrow."

The man arrived with a letter from an immigration official in Temotu province in the Solomon Islands, Port Vila Presse said. He claimed to have deserted the Cameroon army after opposing the government for kidnapping opposition Members of Parliament.

He said he had been in Papua New Guinea and then the Solomon Islands. "I couldn’t stay in the Solomons because people there are very suspicious of an African guy. I was attacked several times because people thought I was there to train militia from Guadalcanal."

Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation said it is believed the man had entered the Solomon Islands from Papua New Guinea through Western province.

He had been living with the Melanesian Brothers in Honiara before traveling to Lata, where he stayed with a Seventh Day Adventist church community.

Meanwhile, Solomon Islands Director of Immigration James Remobatu confirmed that he is aware of the illegal presence of the man in the country.

But he said the man came in when the law and order situation was almost not functioning because of the Guadalcanal-Malaita ethnic conflict. Immigration authorities were unable to deal with him.

Mr. Remobatu said if the man is brought back into the country he should be deported.

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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