FORMER MILITANTS CONTROL SOLOMON ISLANDS, VIOLENCE CONTINUES

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (April 26, 2002 – East-West Wire)---"On a stretcher, wrapped in a blood-soaked cloth, was the body of a wantok, friend, and fellow Isatabu Freedom Movement leader...I embraced the bundle and wept. This was the body of Selwyn Saki, another casualty of Solomon Islands social unrest."

In a new East-West Center publication, Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka of the Solomon Islands writes that the brutal murderers of his friend were never apprehended because "those in positions of power have refused to let justice prevail." Such injustices are leading people in his country to no longer "have faith in the state."

Many Americans may best know the Solomons as the place where the late President John. F. Kennedy became a World War II Navy hero by rescuing his crewmembers off the PT-109. Solomon Islanders later delivered Kennedy and his men to safety. But in recent years the South Pacific nation has made headlines after a coup tore the islands apart in 2000.

Kabutaulaka, a faculty member in history and politics at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji and a peace negotiator during the conflict, writes that the islands are now run by a weak government that is controlled by former militants from both sides of the conflict. "Following the coup, the state was 'hijacked' by individuals and groups who manipulated it to serve private interests," he writes in "A Weak State and the Solomon Islands Peace Process."

Kabutaulaka, a Governance Project associate at the East-West Center's Pacific Islands Development Program, says violence has continued in this nation of 450,000, and a top New Zealand diplomat was recently murdered in her home. Furthermore, courts function under great duress, the infrastructure is collapsing, government workers are going unpaid, doctors are leaving the country, and schools lack paper and chalk.

The lack of law and order is the main problem, according to Kabutaulaka, who stressed that the police force is undisciplined and manipulated by groups and individuals using it for selfish interests. "In a country where the economy is collapsing, they (former militants) have access to the money because they have guns," he said in a recent interview. "Some have suggested getting rid of the entire police force."

Kabutaulaka believes international peacekeeping forces are essential in the short-term if former militants are to be disarmed and the police force disciplined. So far only New Zealand has shown interest. Regaining peace and order will require incentives such as amnesty procedures, economic inducements, and educational opportunities, Kabutaulaka said. Foreign governments and international institutions also must administer assistance cautiously to ensure that money is spent for the intended purpose, not to reinforce those who are using the state for selfish interests.

At the same time he said islanders "must take the initiative" to solve their own problems. Acknowledgement of wrongdoing by former militants is a first step. "As long as there is no justice in the Solomon Islands, peace will be a farfetched idea," Kabutaulaka writes. "If the Solomon Islands state is to survive, we must give people reasons to believe in it."

"A Weak State and the Solomon Islands Peace Process," by Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka, East-West Center Working Papers, Pacific Islands Development Series, No. 14, April 2002, 34 pages. To see the full paper, check http://166.122.164.43/archive/special/weak_state.pdf 

Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka can be reached in Fiji at 679-321-2086 or kabutaulaka@usp.ac.fj 

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