SOLOMON ISLANDS PEACE REVIEW SUSPENDED

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (September 26, 2001 - Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation/PINA Nius Online)---The review of the Townsville Peace Agreement, which ended the Guadalcanal-Malaita ethnic conflict in the Solomon Islands, has been suspended indefinitely.

It follows the withdrawal of former Isatabu Freedom Movement militia members from the meeting after the kidnapping and killing of one of their former commanders, Selwyn Saki.

Before the review meeting was suspended both the former militia forces, the Malaita Eagle Force and the Isatabu Freedom Movement, condemned the brutal murder.

A statement from the former Isatabu Freedom Movement described the killing as disrespect to the peace process and the people of the Solomon Islands. But the statement said despite the killing the former Isatabu Freedom Movement members are still committed to the peace process.

The killing incident has been described as a total shock by former members of the Malaita Eagle Force.

Spokesman Andrew Nori said former members of Malaita Eagle Force will assist the community in every way possible to ensure that justice is achieved.

He said the group acknowledged steps being taken by police investigators, urging them to carry out their investigations both in and outside Honiara. He said this would enlighten investigators on whether the crime committed is part of a wider conspiracy to derail the current peace process.

Former members of both groups also extended their condolences to the family and relatives of the late Mr. Saki.

Deputy Commissioner of Police, Operations, Wilfred Akao, said a special operation, code-named "You me together", will ensure those responsible are brought to justice.

He said the task force involves officers from the Criminal Investigation Department and the Police Field Force.

He said police are treating the case as an isolated incident not related to any conflict between the former militia groups.

Mr. Akao warned communities not to worry about fabricated hearsay information, which he said often causes a lot of unnecessary fear in people.

A spokesman for the former the Isatabu Freedom Movement, Tarcissius Tara, warned against rumors speculating about renewed fighting between the former militia forces.

Mr. Tara dismissed any suggestion of a buildup of militants anywhere on Guadalcanal.

He said former Isatabu Freedom Movement and Malaita Eagle Force members are cooperating with police efforts to bring those involved in the killing to justice.

Meanwhile, the Australian Government is reported to have rejected a request to provide a neutral venue for talks on the issues affecting peace on the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal.

Mr. Tara told the Townsville Peace Agreement Review before its adjournment that there are many criminal activities on the Weathercoast affecting the peace process.

He said to try and sort out the problems he had requested Australia to provide a neutral venue so that the leaders from the different groups could get together and iron out their differences.

However, Mr. Tara said Canberra rejected the request.

SIBC understands that Australia has rejected the request because it believes it might send the wrong signals - that despite the peace process under way it is still not yet safe to hold such a meeting in the Solomon Islands.

Guadalcanal Premier Ezekiel Alebua told the review that there is no peace in some parts of Guadalcanal following the formation of the new Guadalcanal Liberation Front.

In another development there has been a call for the government to set up a commission of inquiry into Guadalcanal land issues, one of the original causes of the ethnic conflict between Guadalcanal and Malaitan people.

Malaita Eagle Force spokesperson Andrew Nori said they were comforted by the approach of the Guadalcanal people and the former Isatabu Freedom Movement on the land issue.

He added that the future of the country depended on a return to friendship and free interaction between Malaita and Guadalcanal people and such an inquiry was important for the peace process.

Mr. Nori said the former Malaita Eagle Force fully accepted that people had no right to be squatting on land that was not theirs.

Former Member of Parliament for East Kwaio on Malaita, Alfred Sasako, has suggested that the country should take more steps to ascertain the real causes of the unrest.

Mr. Sasako cited what he called the bonafide demands of the indigenous people of Guadalcanal as one of the causes.

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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