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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Oct. 2, 2002 – SIBC/PINA Nius Online)---Field commanders of the former Malaita Eagle Force militia have warned Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza not to try to take their guns away.

Any attempt to hunt down former Malaita Eagle Force commanders to forcibly retrieve weapons from them would encounter "serious security risk," they said.

And they said only restraint by former Malaita Eagle Force members stopped a gunfight and loss of life during a recent operation by armed police to seize back an interisland vessel held near Honiara.

The warning to the prime minister was in a letter dated Sept. 26 and signed by seven of the former Malaita Eagle Force commanders involved in the more than two years of ethnic conflict.

They told him that unless he first disarms former members of Guadalcanal's Isatabu Freedom Movement militia and Guadalcanal rebel Harold Keke, they will not cooperate in disarmament.

The former Malaita Eagle Force commanders said any disarmament operations should form part of a broader arrangement including all militant groups.

Despite the Townsville Peace Agreement ending the ethnic conflict -- and amnesty campaigns for the handing in of guns -- many high-powered weapons are still not accounted for. They have contributed to continuing law and order problems and the worsening economic crisis.

The commanders said as the committee of former Malaita Eagle Force members responsible for implementing the Townsville Peace Agreement, they condemn the recent police operation at Ranadi.

They said a former Malaita Eagle Force commander was obviously the target.

Police later announced they were planning other operations to arrest those still in possession of weapons.

The former commanders said they are willing to assist the police bring to justice people using weapons for illegal purposes, saying they have never objected to police activities to maintain law and order.

The former commanders have also claimed the prime minister earlier this year advised them they could retain their weapons until Guadalcanal rebel Keke joins the peace process and surrenders his guns.

But the prime minister has categorically denied saying this.

The former commanders said they had a meeting with him on May 28, during which they discussed issues they considered as obstacles to the peace agreement. It was then that he allegedly advised them not to return their weapons.

Keke leads the Guadalcanal Liberation Front, which did not join the peace agreement and has its stronghold on Guadalcanal's rugged and little developed Weather Coast.

The former commanders expressed concern to the prime minister that killings are continuing on Guadalcanal without any arrests being made by the police.

They said the country is again witnessing the same situation that prevailed before the June 2000 coup. In this Malaita Eagle Force and elements of the paramilitary police seized the main police armory, took over Honiara, and deposed the then-government.

They claimed then that crimes committed by Guadalcanal militants against Malaitans were ignored by the police.

The ethnic conflict began after Guadalcanal militants moved against what they claimed was increasing settlement by people from Malaita on Guadalcanal land.

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:  

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