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Statement on the Crisis in the Solomon Islands

Ministerial Statement on the Crisis in the Solomon Islands

Hon. Phil Goff

13 June 2000, 2pm

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

On Monday last week the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Bartholomew Ulufa’ulu, was placed under house arrest by armed members of the Malaitan Eagle Force, which demanded his resignation. They were supported by paramilitary elements from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

This incident sparked a renewal of armed conflict between militant Guadalcanal and Malaitan groups.

The situation worsened the ethnic tensions that have dominated the Solomon Islands for the last 18 months and has brought the country to the brink of civil war.

On Saturday I joined a delegation of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to Honiara, at the invitation of the Commonwealth.

We held meetings with the Governor General, Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers, Opposition MPs including their leader, the Premiers of Guadalcanal and Malaita, the Malaitan Eagle Force representative, church leaders and local media.

We wanted to deliver some clear messages.

First, the use of intimidation and violence to change a democratically elected government is utterly unacceptable to Commonwealth countries.

We urged a return to the constitutional processes and warned of the consequences if this did not occur.

Second, we pressed the warring parties to return to the negotiating table.

We outlined the options facing the militant factions in particular the Malaitan Eagle Force. If they followed the path of violence to achieve their ends, they would fail.

The economy would collapse, the social infrastructure would be destroyed, thousands would die and development assistance would be impossible to continue. History would record that they led their people to disaster.

If, however, they return to negotiation and seek peace and reconciliation it will be possible to address the concerns which led to the formation of the Malaitan Eagle Force.

The key and justifiable cause the Malaitans have is fair compensation for the 20,000 or more Malaitans forced from their properties and homes on Guadalcanal in what was effectively an act of ethnic cleansing.

There could be no compensation if the Solomons descended into chaos, because there would be no local ability to pay for it and no international aid to supplement it.

If there were peace, the international community including New Zealand and Australia will assist in facilitating a peace process with compensation out of the existing aid budgets.

The rational decision is for the militant groups to choose negotiation, not violence but such decisions are not always made rationally.

We also worked to get commitments to a truce to allow peace talks to get underway.

We gained a written commitment from the Guadalcanal Isatabu Freedom Movement.
The Malaitan Eagle Force representative, Andrew Nori, agreed in principle but could not speak for all factions.

I put the prospects for a truce at 50/50.

There were other concrete achievements.

I secured safe passage of the Prime Minister's family to the Red Cross.

We also succeeded in negotiating the opening of an air bridge, which enabled the RNZAF on Sunday to evacuate around 150 New Zealanders and other nationals who were stranded in Honiara. A further 150 people were evacuated yesterday by the RNZAF and our efforts will continue over the next few days.

While we are at the eleventh hour, New Zealand High Commission staff are continuing in their efforts to bring the parties in the Solomon Islands back to the negotiating table.

ENDS

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