Commentary: WHY SIR FRED? WHY NOW?




HONIARA, Solomon Islands (SIBC, Feb. 24) - Sir Fred Soaki was gunned down while eating dinner in the company of a group of Peace Monitoring Council members in Auki, Malaita last week. Of all the persons who could have been singled out as a target for assassination, he would be, in the eyes of most islanders, the least likely. I know it's the "correct" thing to speak only good of the dead but Fred was really a quiet guy, modest and low keyed. Why then was he targeted in such a public venue, in the presence of so many eye witnesses and in so dramatic a fashion? What message, then, was the killer trying to send? Who precisely was the message aimed at: the general public? Government especially? Or was it meant for the police in particular?

The assassination has caused concern among the public but with the political elite especially. Over the last four years, senior public servants, the political elite and church hierarchy members felt they enjoyed some kind of immunity. In the past the Boys with Guns, during the immediate weeks and months after the 2000 Coup, for example, would sometimes brandish them in public, flaunt their Rambo strut on the street but rarely did much more than show their machoness, except of course to those whom they counted as expendable. The brazenness of this killing - a high-profile individual, in a public place with at least a dozen witnesses watching and under the very nose of the police - means a line has been crossed.

But why has this line - a highly respected, senior statesman gunned down in a public venue with many witnesses looking on - been crossed at this moment of Solomon Islands history? Fr. Geve's assassination over at Guadalcanal's Weather Coast last August, on the other hand, was an entirely different kind of killing. The rebel leader, Harold Keke, made no attempt to hide his identify nor do the deed in quiet. Fr. Geve's killing was a more personal affair rather than one designed to send messages. Sir Fred's case, however, seemed that the deed was done to send a message to someone. What precisely was the message and to whom was it intended remains less than clear at the moment!

The message, however, could become clear once police find the precise motive for the killing. One of the first motives mentioned was that Sir Fred had been working with the Demobilization of Special Constables program. Some of these militants, it was stated, were not at all happy about their being sacked and reduced in stature. These men had drawn down periodic salaries over a two year period and were now to be returned to their village with a one-off grant to start up new business ventures. However, that view, although the immediate reaction of some pointing to the motive for the killing, seems to fly into the face of known facts.

Last week the newly appointed Police Commissioner, William Morrell, when speaking to Civil Society Network members, felt such a motive ran counter to what was actually happening on the ground with the demobilization program. He informed the group that of the 800 Special Constables identified for demobilization, at least 610 of them had willingly signed up for the program. A further 30-50 other ex-militants were thinking of joining up as well. Many of them wanted to re-start their lives and get back to normalcy once again. Although the linkage of Sir Fred's death and the Special Constables program has not been ruled out, that motive alone was far from convincing police authorities that it was indeed the critical one for the brutal killing.

Linking Sir Fred's murder and the Special Constables' discontent remains unproven in police eyes yet the Malaita demobilization program at least has been put on hold indefinitely. Guadalcanal's demobilization plans, however, remain on course. Another motive, mostly running through the coconut wireless, says the motive for his killing is rooted in Sir Fred's knowledge of the inner workings over the last four years of the Social Unrest which has plagued the nation. He knew where many of the "skeletons" were buried and had warned that those leaders should face justice as well. Again such talk remains that, talk without solid substance.

But whatever the killer's motive was and however badly this senseless event has shocked the nation, the general public has reacted angrily and strongly. They are determined not to be cowed nor deterred to see their nation come back into normalcy once again. They beg the police to continue to investigate strongly, not to be swayed by "wontok" considerations and to work quickly to bring a sense of normalcy back to a badly battered country.

February 24, 2003

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