FIJI CAN LEARN FROM SOLOMONS, SAYS MONITOR VULA

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By Ulamila Kura-I-Marrie

SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 2, 2002 - Sun/PINA Nius Online)---A Fiji Government backbencher and member of the election observer group in the Solomon Islands said Fiji should have done what the Solomons did in honoring the Townsville Peace Agreement.

Bua parliamentarian Josateki Vula was an observer in last month's Solomon Islands elections - the first after two years of ethnic conflict - and was based in Malaita.

He said what happened in the Solomons ethnic conflict was worse than what happened in Fiji during last year's coup crisis.

"Decapitated bodies would be put up for displays and there would be payback killings," he said.

"But they all came to the peace table with an open mind and willing heart for reconciliation to move their nation and people forward.

"There were brutal killings and eye-for-an-eye paybacks. Even up to May ... there were killings still but the new government remained committed to enacting the agreement."

Mr. Vula said the Townsville Peace Agreement ending the Solomons conflict included a general amnesty. This covered all those associated with the Malaita Eagle Force and Isatabu Freedom Movement militia and any police or prison officers who participated in military operations during the crisis.

He argued that if the Muanikau Accord, signed between the Fiji rebels and the military last year, had been similarly honored "we would have avoided all these expensive, unnecessary legal battles."

He said instead Fiji could have taken a major step taken towards reconciliation.

Coup front man George Speight and other key supporters were arrested and charged after the military said not all weapons had been returned as required under the Muanikau Accord.

Despite Mr. Vula's statements the Solomon Islands still faces continuing law and order problems, with large numbers of high-powered weapons still not returned.

Mr. Vula said that the Solomons elections were carried out smoothly. Peace had settled in among the warring factions from the ethnic conflict because they honored the Townsville Peace Agreement, he said.

The Solomon Islands coalition government formed after the elections includes people linked with both sides of the ethnic conflict.

For additional reports from the Fiji Sun, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Sun.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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