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SOLOMON IS: Militants hijack Solair aircraft

USP Pacific Journalism Online: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/ USP Journalism on the Fiji crisis (UTS host): http://www.journalism.uts.edu.au/archive/coup.html
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By Duran Angiki USP Journalism Graduate

GIZO, Solomon Islands (WP): A breakaway faction within the Guadalcanal militants group, Isatabu Freedom Movement, has hijacked a Solomon Airlines aircraft and its pilot yesterday.

Following the hijacking, the rebel group contacted the airline and demanded SBD$2 million for the safe release of the aircraft and her pilot.

Solomon Airlines officials last night declined to give detailed information about the hijacking and the demand but confirmed that the militants had seized the aircraft.

Officials last night said the country’s National Security Council (SINSC) had taken the lead in negotiations with the IFM faction.

The militants, allegedly led by IFM commander Harold Keke, seized the aircraft at Babanakira airport, in the south-west coast of the civil war-torn island of Guadalcanal.

It reported that the militants hijacked the aircraft after landing at Babanakira ? a domestic airport about a 35min flight from the country’s international airport, Henderson, in East Honiara.

The location of the hijackers is known locally as Weather Coast, an IFM stronghold, which has been waging a war against ethnic Malaitans in the rural areas of Guadalcanal since 1998.

Last night the chairman of the Solomon Islands National Security Council

(SINSC) and Minister of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, Alan Kemakeza, gagged the airline about the hijacking.

Airline officials last night said negotiations between the hijackers, the government and the airlines' management had been suspended last night until this morning.

The officials confirmed that the captured pilot, a Captain Rove, from the Western Solomons, reported at 6pm that the aircraft was still safe and the militia had taken good care of him.

+++niuswire

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