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By Mary-Louise O'Callaghan South Pacific Correspondent

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (May 24, 2002 – The Australian)---Police officers in the Solomon Islands are expected today to surrender hundreds of high-powered weapons seized during a coup in June 2000 and held illegally.

The handover has been ordered by senior officers who also took part in the coup and will be a big breakthrough for the country's moribund peace process.

Deputy Police Commissioner Wilfred Akao told his men this week the handover was the only way to rebuild public trust in the police force. "We are in a gradual process of recovery but are critically hampered by the large amounts of high powered weapons still in the hands of former militants, other individuals and police officers.

"We have had too many instances in recent times of police officers disgracefully misusing firearms. The continued possession of firearms is harmful to yourself and others, including your own families."

More than 500 high-powered weapons were taken from police armories in the lead-up to the coup and are still being held by police and Malaita Eagle Force militants.

Both groups, who joined forces to carry out the coup, will qualify for an amnesty for their role in the 2000 coup if they hand in their weapons and any stolen property.

But the police are also responsible for enforcing the amnesty, which originally had a deadline of November 18, 2000.

Peace Monitoring Council chairman Paul Tovua, who is charged with leading the amnesty campaign, endorsed the decision of Prime Minister Allen Kemakeza not to further extend the amnesty deadline.

Sir Paul said the Malaita and Guadalcanal communities involved in the ethnic conflict that led to the coup now understood that the weapons surrender represented the "light at the end of the tunnel" for Solomon Islanders.

"They know that this will not happen while a selfish few use their weapons to hold the government and the country to ransom to satisfy their own narrow demands," Sir Paul said.

For additional reports from The Australian, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Australian.

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