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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (June 24, 2002 - SIBC/PINA Nius Online)---About 2,000 guns are being disposed permanently in a further effort to bring permanent peace to the Solomon Islands.

The International Peace Monitoring Team has begun permanently getting rid of the weapons surrendered under the terms of the Townsville Peace Agreement that ended more than two years of Guadalcanal-Malaita ethnic conflict.

Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza said this is another step forward in the peace process and a cause of great rejoicing.

He congratulated the International Peace Monitoring Team for carrying out the wishes of the government and people in a responsible way.

Independent observers -- including the Anglican Church's Melanesian Brothers, the Peace Monitoring Council, religious leaders, and local communities – are verifying the process, Sir Allan said.

He confirmed that weapons disposed of included more than 800 guns surrendered during the Peace Monitoring Council's May 31 deadline weapons and stolen property amnesty campaign.

The Explosives Ordinance Division of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force is currently destroying the explosives surrendered since late 2000.

Sir Allan stressed that the disposal of illegal weapons clearly reflects the overwhelming wish of Solomon Islanders to live once again in a gun-free society.

But an unknown number of weapons are still unaccounted for. Some former Malaita Eagle Force militants say they will not return their weapons until Guadalcanal militant Harold Keke and his men are disarmed.

Mr. Keke and his group, known as the Guadalcanal Liberation Front, have their stronghold on the rugged Weather Coast and did not join the peace agreement. A government envoy has been negotiating with them.

But these efforts have been thrown into uncertainty following reports of an armed clash on the Weather Coast involving a group of men from Honiara, with 11 men reported missing.

Meanwhile, Solomon Islands Peace Monitoring Council chairperson Paul Tovua thanked the government for acting promptly in ordering the disposal of the surrendered weapons.

Solomon Islanders should be able to sleep easier now, knowing that there are about 2,000 fewer illegal weapons out there to threaten them, he said.

He stressed that the council continues to appeal for the return of other illegal weapons that may still be in the communities.

The process of reconciliation and nation building must take center stage, he said. Solomon Islanders have been urged to cooperate to restore trust and to build on the progress made in May during the weapons amnesty campaign.

The government will shortly determine its licensing policy for small arms not used during the conflict, such as those previously used by farmers and hunters.

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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