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By Mark Forbes Foreign Affairs Correspondent

CANBERRA, Australia (June 14, 2002 – The Age)---Authorities in the Solomon Islands are urgently investigating reports of a massacre during the weekend that left up to 11 people dead on the remote Weather Coast of Guadalcanal Island.

There are concerns that the reports could provoke further violence in the Pacific Ocean islands, where Australian peace monitors are running an unsuccessful program for former rebel groups to hand over weapons.

Police Commissioner Morton Sireheti has expressed "grave concern" about the reports, saying people should remain calm as police were investigating and "fully understood the sensitivity of the incident."

"At this point in time, we have received conflicting reports of an incident involving the use of firearms and the tragic deaths of people from three or more provinces of the Solomon Islands," Mr. Sireheti said.

"No stone will be left unturned in our attempts to investigate and verify all the issues involved.

"If this information is found to be false and people have been maliciously spreading lies, they too will be investigated and charged."

Children were among those believed killed in the alleged massacre as armed rebels attacked a village said to be the headquarters of a rival warlord.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said that high commission staff members were urgently investigating the reports. "We are aware of these rumors circulating in Honiara," she said. "At this stage these rumors are unsubstantiated."

Australians were advised to defer any travel to the Solomons, in line with previous warnings, she said.

The islands have suffered a nearly four-year-long civil war, although peace deals and the initial handing over of weapons significantly eased violence over the past 12 months.

The process has stalled with at least 500 high-powered weapons still in circulation.

The Weather Coast, inaccessible by road and air, has remained a no-go zone because of warlord Harold Keke, who has refused to hand over weapons.

The civil war began when militants on Guadalcanal tried to drive out migrants from the neighboring island of Malaita.

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



HONIARA, Solomon Islands (June 13, 2002 – Radio Australia)---The Solomon Islands Police Commissioner has appealed to the citizenry to remain calm in the wake of reports of several people being killed by armed militants off the coast of Guadalcanal last weekend.

Radio Australia correspondent Sean Dorney reports that stories circulating in the capital, Honiara, about the alleged shootings have caused considerable alarm.

"Several hundred ex-militants who took part in the ethnic war surrendered their weapons in recent weeks to gain amnesty. However, others refused. One prominent Malaita Eagle Force group in Honiara claimed they wouldn't give up their guns until Harold Keke, a Guadalcanal militant from the Weather Coast, gave up his.

"So the reports that people from at least three provinces were killed at the weekend in an alleged incident off the Weather Coast have caused great consternation in the capital.

"The Solomon Islands Police Commissioner, Moreton Sireheti, says police have conflicting versions of what allegedly happened and they're investigating, working closely with the Anglican religious order, the Melanesian Brotherhood, which has contacts on the Weather Coast.

"Two former commanders of the Guadalcanal militia, the Isatabu Freedom Movement, Joseph Sangu and Charles Vangere, say they know of no incident and they have condemned people for spreading what they call rumors.

"Sean Dorney, Radio Australia."

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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