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Militant faction prepared to release pilot

SOLOMON IS: Militant faction prepared to release pilot

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By Duran Angiki
USP Journalism Graduate

GIZO, Solomon Islands (WP): The breakaway faction of the Guadalcanal’s Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) is preparing to release the Solomon Airlines pilot held hostage since Saturday.

A spokesman for the faction said the militants had arranged to take the pilot to Avuavu domestic airport in Southeast Guadalcanal for his safe return to Honiara.

The militia, headed by Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA) commander, Harold Keke, said the group had agreed to unconditionally release the pilot.

But the militants refused to accept the government's undisclosed compensation package currently offered for the release of the plane.

The Britain Norman Islander nine-seater aircraft was hijacked with its pilot on Saturday and held hostage by the IFM faction and demanded SBD$2 million.

Negotiations between the south-west Guadalcanal militants and the government over the last three days failed to settle the matter.

National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace Minister Alan Kemakeza, who is also chairman of the National Security Council, declined to comment yesterday.

Kemakeza, who headed the negotiation team claimed to be busy in a meeting, referring questions to an appointed spokesman, Edward Hunu'ehu.

Hunu'ehu, a special secretary to the former Prime Minister, was sacked following his involvement with prostitutes that led to his arrest in Brisbane, Australia in late 1999.

An inquiry to the Office of the Prime Minister's private secretary, Tina

Leve, also met with hash response, saying she did not wish to waste her time.

Solomon Airlines officials today said the cost of a Norman Islander aircraft would be around US$400,000 to US$500,000.

Since the GRA hijacked the plane, it had reportedly refused to negotiate the release of the aircraft at a lower cost but said the pilot would be allowed to return home.

The GRA spokesman said the commander of the militants had assured the wife and people of Captain Eric Rove that he would ensure the safe return of the pilot.

GRA's assurance follows concern jointly expressed by Guadalcanal people taking refugee in Western Solomons and the Premier of Western Solomons.

Captain Eric Rove is from Roviana lagoon in the Western Solomons and any

threat to his life would backfire on the Guadalcanal people in the state.

Since the capturing of the pilot, he has been reporting back to his Honiara base that the militia had been taking good care of him and the aircraft.

Solomon Airlines officials today said the three domestic airports on Guadalcanal Island - Marau, Avuavu and Babanakira had been closed pending the outcome of the negotiations.

The GRA spokesman said the hijacking of the aircraft had been forced by the militants’ dissatisfaction over Kemakeza failure to fulfil his many promises.

Kemakeza had promised that the government would disarm the Malaita Eagle

Force (MEF) if the Guadalcanal militants sign the current cease-fire agreement.

Since the IFM signed it, the MEF continued to be armed and maintained its blockade of humanitarian supplies to all parts of Guadalcanal.

The spokesman said the faction had been disappointed that the government

had succumbed and paid SBD$1.8 million to the MEF.

He said the faction had been especially disappointed over the government payment of an additional more than SBD$270,000 for the repatriation of MEF members back to Malaita Province.

If the government and minister could easily pay millions of dollars to an illegal group like MEF, then why not give the militia its demand, he added.

+++niuswire

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