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Feature: Criminals Hold Honiara Citizens 'Hostage'

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By Duran Angiki Pacific Journalism Online Correspondent

GIZO, Solomon Islands (WP): Escalating ethnic violence in the national capital of the British former colony in the Solomons, Honiara, has now become "business as usual".

Since the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) took over the government and police arms and authority in a coup on June 5 and thus control Honiara, stealing has

rapidly becoming worse.

Besides armed militia looting of state and private properties on a daily basis in front of the government and its overseas friends, none bother to raise concern.

The situation has caught the country's diplomatic missions such as Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the European Union in a predicament.

As ethnic militia carry out daily criminal activities under their noses,

they helplessly play a "wait and see" game.

Diplomatic sources confirmed that the three traditional friendly nations had maintained warnings issued after June 5 for their nationals not to fly into the Solomons.

The New Zealand High Commission’s office in Honiara confirmed re-issuing

warning against tourists intending to travel to Solomons.

The diplomatic advice warned that only New Zealanders with urgent businesses in the country should come over.

Such travel advisories are unable to stop criminals, who have held the country at ransom with growing compensation demands that now reach SBD$200 million.

Although foreigners were not singled out as prime targets, their presence in Honiara remain a beacon of hope for the daily victims of the crisis.

Among the latest victims were two expatriates who had been involved in the civil society’s educational programs and efforts in assisting the government to find a solution to the conflict.

It reported that MEF elements harassed the director of the University of the South Pacific Centre in Honiara, Julian Treadaway, and a member of the Solomon Island Christian Association Peace Office, Bob Pollard.

Since last week, the foreigners had to go in hiding and fled the country

after armed militia reportedly ransacked their homes and looted their belongings.

Besides them were their local colleagues whom MEF criminal elements had ransacked their offices and houses at broad-daylight and stole all their

household goods.

An Australian technical staff person of Solomon Telekom, Steve Hall, was forced to flee Honiara early this week after MEF criminals harassed and stole his vehicle.

The editor of the country’s only daily newspaper, the Solomon Star, Imo Ta’asi, said the situation in Honiara was "not really bad".

But he confirmed that two of his reporters from the Western Solomons had to be given indefinite unpaid leave recently following major threats to their lives.

He confirmed that the only news reporters left working with the newspaper were ethnic Malaitans and himself ? a Gilbertese naturalised Solomon Islands citizen.

Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) news editor, Walter Nalangu, said the station coverage of the ethnic violence in Honiara had been constrained by a number of reasons.

He said the general lawlessness in Honiara could not guarantee anybody’s safety so journalists had to work with such an understanding.

Since MEF took control of Honiara, ethnic Malaitan criminals took advantages of the situation and indiscriminately targeting business houses, wealthy locals and especially ethnic people of Choiseul and Western states.

One of the reasons the MEF criminals were singling out the ethnic people from both former provinces was the declaration by their leaders of the two provinces as "state" governments.

MEF took the declaration by both former provinces, now known as Western Solomons, as a direct defying of the MEF authority and control of Honiara.

Besides the MEF "ethnic cleansing" of Guadalcanal people in Honiara, it also waged a criminal campaign against people of other ethnic groups in the capital.

The criminals' daily activities in Honiara, included chasing out of families at broad daylight out of their homes and stripping down houses from the top roofing to the floor and anything movable.

The MEF campaign resulted in the mass exodus of civil servants, doctors,

lawyers and people of all walks of life out of Honiara back to their various provinces and especially Western Solomons.

As of this week, victims and critics had equally expressed scepticism about the immediate return of peace to the battered national capital of the Solomons.

The director of the Solomon Islands government information unit, Alfred Maesulia, said the government had seen the forthcoming peace-talk as the only positive way of bringing peace.

IFM spokesman Henry Tobani, a fortnight ago said the Guadalcanal militia was committed to work closely with the government in bringing about lasting peace.

ME lawyer Andrew Nori also reiterated a similar view about his group's commitment to finding lasting solution to the 20-month ethnic conflicts.

But the assurance fails to sway the public fear, especially on the MEF leadership whose current controlled in Honiara had only brought misery.

Besides the MEF elements criminal activities, about half of the population also suffered from total water cut since June caused by the militia.

IFM members' blow up the water reservoir in retaliation against the MEF daily intrusion into the Guadalcanal militants’ territory after the coup on June 5.

After the damage of the water source, the Solomon Islands Water Authority has since been unable to repair it, causing an unbearable situation in the capital.

Apart from the water problem, innocent people of Honiara had to go through the trauma of living under the criminals' rule.

Former Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Francis Billy Hilly, said the looting and harassing of people in Honiara would not stop until the government disarmed MEF criminals.

Right under the nose of the government, MEF criminals had been engaged in daily robbery, atrocities and ethnic cleansing of non-Malaitans without a single arrest.

He said this was a sign of total collapsed in the law and order in Honiara, which had threaten to spread over to other parts of the country.

A tertiary schoolteacher, Reeves Wilfred Billy, who also fled Honiara after criminals harassed and threaten his family, doubted that security would soon return.

He said the law and order problem in Honiara would not be changed unless the government disarmed criminals.

Following the MEF coup on June 5, the ethnic Malaitan militia sealed-off IFM militants to the rural areas of Guadalcanal and held hostage the more than 20,000 population of the city.

Since then, the ethnic Malaitan militia had daily erected four roadblocks in the city and enforced night curfews from 6:30pm to 7am, restricting the nightlife in Honiara

Recent attempts by the MEF backed government to restore law and order by

appointing an ethnic Malaitan Commissioner of Police, Morton Siriheti, failed to produce the desired result.

The lawlessness becomes evident as armed MEF criminals' daily-looted shops, ransacked houses, stripping down property and driven around in stolen vehicles without arrest by the unarmed police.

Among the ranks of criminals in Honiara were about 90 prisoners of predominantly ethnic Malaitans whom the MEF released from the Rove prison camp.

The situation led to the suspension and closing down of the courts and the Solomon Islands Prison Service in Honiara, forcing many foreign investors and local businesses to either close or downgrade operations.

+++niuswire


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