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SOLOMONS: Ceasefire fails to stop Honiara looting

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By Duran Angiki

GIZO: Solomon Islanders are now anxiously waiting for a positive outcome of the most awaited ceasefire finally signed by one of the warring parties in the ethnic conflicts on Guadalcanal.

This follows the failure of both the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) and Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) to honor similar ceasefires in 1998, 1999 and over the past seven months.

Early yesterday morning, the commanders of IFM finally signed the ceasefire in a ceremony held at Aruligo, 40 kilometers West of Honiara.

The signing ceremoney was held ten hours after rival militia group MEF and the Solomon Islands government signed the same document on board Australia's MHAS Tobruk in Honiara on Wednesday afternoon.

But while the ceasefire was still in its infantry stage, it did not stop

the criminal activities carried out by members of the MEF in and around East Honiara yesterday.

Eyewitnesses confirmed that countless members of MEF with vehicles torched and stripped down abandoned properties and empty houses at Foxwood, 25 kilometers East of Honiara.

They claimed to have seen MEF members transported back to Honiara City -

iron roofing, household furniture, boats, water tanks, timbers and other

valuable items.

Honiara Police confirmed yesterday the looting but would not identified the people, saying they only received reports that people of mostly Malaitan

ethnic origin had carried out the looting.

A spokesman for one of the major logging company who had operated a sawmill plant at the area revealed yesterday that the company had received reports about the damage to its property.

He said MEF Police Joint Operation had informed the company that their sawmill plant with seven houses, included one house of six-self contain units, were either burned down or stripped to the ground.

The spokesman said the company would not be able to assess and determine the cost of the damages because the area was not safe for their staff to visit.

Foxwood had been under IFM control until June 15, when the Malaita Eagle

Force (MEF) captured it after a fierce fighting that resulted in the dead of six IFM members.

Since the MEF took over the area, it had torched down 25 private houses and stripped down to the ground countless properties.

But the recent criminal activities, carried by members of MEF, did not deter the Solomon Islands government efforts to get the warring militia to implement the two-day-old ceasefire.

Deputy Prime Minister, Allan Kemakeza, who accompanied the document to be signed at Aruligo, described the occasion, which took place at about 1:30am yesterday, as a "big ceremony".

He said the agreement was signed by IFM spokesman Henry Tobani and the militia commanders - Andrew Te'e, Harold Keke, Joseph Sangu and George Gray.

MEF spokesman, Andrew Nori, in a message broadcast through national radio, assured parents of his fighters that his boys were going to return home.

He said MEF presence in Honiara would be downsized to be consistent with the spirit of the peace talk and as a way of building confidence.

Nori said the downsizing did not mean discharging of soldiers but the boys were only going on leave pending the completion of the planned peace talks.

IFM supreme commander Andrew Te'e said, in an earlier media statement, that he would sign the agreement as that was the wishes of most Solomon Islanders.


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