ABOUT 150 ARMED SOLOMON ISLANDS POLICE FREE SEIZED BOAT

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (September 13, 2002 - SIBC/PINA Nius Online)---An armed Solomon Islands police operation involving about 150 officers freed an inter-island vessel forcibly seized and being held near Honiara's main port.

The joint police force went by road and boat to Ranadi in east Honiara, retook the inter-island vessel and arrested three men guarding it.

The vessel, the "Sa'alia," had been in port at the time it was seized and there were reportedly no passengers aboard.

The boat was believed to have been taken over by men involved in recent attacks by North Malaitans on another Malaitan linguistic group, the people of Langa Langa.

Commissioner Morton Sireheti, speaking following the police operation, warned people still holding weapons and committing illegal activities that the police will put them behind bars.

Mr. Sireheti said the policemen in the joint operation came from the regular police, Criminal Investigation Department, Police Field Force and Rapid Response Unit.

No one was injured during the retaking of the boat, he said.

He commended all the police officers involved.

Mr. Sireheti said the operation was a good day for law and justice in the Solomon Islands.

He explained that the men from all provinces and all areas of the Royal Solomon Islands Police cooperated for a common purpose: to ensure the law was upheld and criminals brought to justice.

Mr. Sireheti said: "Let the size of this operation and the determination of all involved be a warning to those of you who hold illegal weapons and those of you who think you can get away with illegal activities."

It was one of the strongest police operations so far to end the continuing law and order problems.

It came after a spate of violent incidents and killings, including the recent shooting deaths of four children near Honiara.

A large number of high-powered weapons have still not been handed in following a peace agreement ending more than two years of ethnic conflict.

Some of these weapons are now believed to be in the hands of criminal gangs.

In other developments, the Solomon Islands Cabinet has awarded Sol$ 4 million (US$ 556,800) to members of the former Malaita Eagle Force militia, it was confirmed.

The money -- under the compensation scheme for property lost in the ethnic conflict -- was awarded following a lot of pressure, SIBC News was told.

This included some former militants pressuring Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza.

The former Malaita Eagle Force members were originally allocated Sol$ 1.5 million (US$ 208,800) from the final tranche of a loan the government received from Taiwan's Exim Bank.

The former Malaitan militia were at the forefront of the ethnic warfare with Guadalcanal's Isatabu Freedom Movement.

The fighting had erupted after Guadalcanal militants began a campaign against increasing Malaitan settlement on Guadalcanal, home of the capital, Honiara, and largest of the Solomon Islands.

The Sol$4 million (US$ 556,800) was paid to the Malaita Eagle Force members on Tuesday, SIBC News learned.

A government spokesman told SIBC that decisions on payments from the final tranche of the loan to make lost property payments were made collectively by the Cabinet.

They were the subject of intense negotiation and lobbying, he said.

The spokesman said the final disbursements have now been made to each electorate or group. Payments to individuals are the responsibility of the relevant parliamentarians and their respective committees.

The payments have been the talk of Honiara city. The ANZ Bank in central Honiara has filled with people forming long queues every day, from as early as 7 am, to cash their payments.

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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