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SOLOMON IS: Armed men hijack Sol Taiyo boat

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By DURAN ANGIKI in Gizo, Western Province

Three armed men of Malaita ethnic origin hijacked a Japanese fishing boat belonging to the Solomon Taiyo fishing company in Western Province and took it to Honiara yesterday.

The hijacker took control of Soltai 68 on Wednesday night at Bili passage near the port of Bunikalo, Marovo lagoon, in Western Province.

A spokesman for the Western Provincial Police confirmed the incident and

said an investigation had been carried out to determine the reason for the hijack.

But he said preliminary finding indicated that the three-militia men took the action claiming that their lives were in great danger in Western Province.

Police warned that such an action would only further strain the already tense relationship between the people of Western Province and Malaitans in the province.

Two nights prior to the hijack, an armed group raided a house in Noro Township and got away with $400,000 Japanese yen and other valuable items.

The police spokesman revealed that a similar hold-up had also taken place at the Solomon Islands former capital, Tulagi, in Central Province, early this week.

He said reports confirmed that a group, allegedly of the MEF, raided a Tulagi fuel depot at gunpoint and stole drums of 44-galone petrol and a small boat.

The spokesman said during the hijack at Marovo lagoon, two crew of the fishing boat escaped and alert the authority and the company about it.

The fishing boat arrived in Honiara at about 9am and was escorted by one of the country’s patrol boats, currently held by the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), to the Honiara Wharf.

MEF leader, Andrew Nori, yesterday disassociated his members from the hijackers.

He said the MEF had no knowledge of the three-armed men and would not know the motive of the hijack.

A spokesman for the Solomon Taiyo fishing company at the Western Province industrial town of Noro said the company had been greatly concern over such criminal action.

He claimed that the hijackers, who were armed with three high-powered guns, boarded and took control of the fishing vessel with her 30-men crew onboard and forced the skipper at gunpoint to travel to Honiara.

Among the crew who were taken hostage by the hijackers were two Japanese and a Philipino, who were reported yesterday to be safe but in a state of shock.

He said following the incident yesterday, the company recalled all its fishing fleet of 20-boat back to Noro base.

Meanwhile, the trouble peace talk in Solomon Islands between the two warring factions, the Malaita Eagle Force and Isatabu Freedom Movement, had again chopped another blow.

The three most wanted commanders of the IFM, Harold Keke, Joseph Sangu and George Grey had refused to attend the talk, forcing the meeting to further delay.

Solomon Islands government deputy Prime Minister, Alan Kemakeza, said the government and the militants groups had agreed on the delay.

He said this was to give the government time to try and persuade the commanders to attend the peace talk.

The government revealed yesterday that the three IFM commanders had refused to attend the peace-talk citing security reason, although police had assured their safety at the talk.

In early 1998, Harold Keke and Joseph Sangu, escaped Solomon Islands police custody after they were release on bail on charges of possessing arms without licences and attempted murder.

+++niuswire

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