SOLOMON ISLANDS ESTABLISHES TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION

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MELBOURNE, Australia (Nov. 20, 2002 – Radio Australia)---The people of Solomon Islands are being asked for their views on a proposal that would set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with the aftermath of four years of ethnic violence.

The violence, mainly between militants from the islands of Guadalcanal and Malaita, began in 1998. There have also been concerns that the Townsville Peace Agreement of 2000 only addressed the issue of violence in relation to the perpetrators, rather than the victims.

Mathew Wale, Solomon Islands' Christian Association Peace Office, said, "The greatest substantive leap forward in our peace process, this dialogue process, has begun and if it is deemed through the dialogue process as the way forward, we will proceed with it and I, myself, would think that this is really the turning point in our peace process. It will move us forward, it will define clearly the basis for our national unity.

"It'll point the way forward for issues for governance reform, a whole myriad of issues could come out of this."

Wale said initially the discussions centered among the churches, looking at the peace process to date and seeing whether the reconciliations that have happened are adequate and whether they have afforded healing to the victims.

"And the clear answer has been no, it hasn't, and so we looked at how, within our cultural context, how can we move forward, and we've also looked outside at other experiences and we've tried to meld the lessons learned from other experiences into our cultural context. And that's how we've come up with the proposed framework for the Truth Reconciliation Commission for Solomons.

"Basically we want ownership, we want their participation so that they feel this is something they own and also that they can have input directly into it.

"Now a team of people will be going around and some of us have been around, but the second phase of that dialogue will kick off late December and this we hope will go until June and people will have input.

"That input will be collated and if there are common strands running through it, some editorial work will have to be done on the proposal as it stands at the moment and then we hope it will be ready for cabinet papers so that the government can then have a look at it.

Wale said they have had a preliminary meeting with the Minister for National Unity and Peace, the Honorable Nathanial Waina. He has indicated that it is worth exploring and a good idea that the wider community look at it first. If it is deemed through that process of dialogue that this is something the people want, then the government will take it forward.

"He's very positive and supportive of the idea."

Problems of violence remain in the Solomons and there are many guns in the community. "Experience from elsewhere suggests that the presence of guns have never really been a deterrent.

"The experience of Guatamala and El Salvador and South Africa, for instance, there is so many guns out in the hands of the perpetrators and they threatened victims, but the plight of victims are just so important that they wanted to speak and we hope that this will also be our experience, that people will want to tell their story.

"Having said that however, we hope that the dialogue process will come to an end around June, then it will go to cabinet and legislation will go to parliament, possibly November-December sitting of parliament in 2003. And the earliest that the commission could be up and running will be 2004, January, February, March period.

"Now we hope that the incremental improvements that the police are seeing now will continue for the next 14 to 15 months and by then more confidence has come back in terms of our law and order situation and such a process is able to move forward so that victims are afforded this important opportunity to heal."

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

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