Guadalcanal Leaders Cautious On Peace Talks
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By Duran Angiki
MUNDA, Solomon Islands (WP): Guadalcanal militants and provincial government leaders say peace talks and signed agreements will not resolve the ethnic conflict in the Solomons if criminals ignore them.
Guadalcanal provincial and Isatabu Freedom Movement leaders shared this statement before boarding an Australian Airforce Hercules at Munda airport on their way to Townsville, Australia yesterday.
The 40-member joint delegation from the Guadalcanal province, community and IFM leader were flown to Australia to hold peace talks with ethnic Malaitan leaders and militia, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF).
Speaking before the flight yesterday morning, Guadalcanal Premier Ezekiel Alebua said the four-day talks would only be meaningful if the terms and conditions of any agreement are acceptable by the militia.
"Talking and signing of agreements will not resolve the ethnic conflict on Guadalcanal.
"What really matter now is both ethnic militia should discuss, accept and respect each others desire, culture, traditional values and land rights as the pre-requisite for long lasting peace.
"The four major issues that are high in our agenda are land, compensation for damaged properties, the future of the militant group (IFM) and the issue of state government," Alebua said.
He warned that if the forthcoming peace-talk in Australia fails again just like other previous ones then that would be the end of Solomon Islands.
IFM spokesman for East Guadalcanal, Hendry Tobani equally expressed that there were lots and lots of issues that needs proper analysis this time around after the first round of negotiation between both ethnic militia.
"One of the issues that the Guadalcanal militia has put as a priority in its agenda for renegotiate was the area of influence now taken control of by the MEF.
The area of control now under the jurisdiction of the MEF stretches from Bonage in West Guadalcanal to Ngalibiu river in East Guadalcanal. This area is where the industrial activities of the country are located, including the national capital, Honiara.
"Our decision to give up the area of influence is a major loss for us but that’s how we prepare to sacrifice in order for us to reach this far in our peace-negotiation.
He said: "One of the issues that is among the non-negotiable items in our agenda is the issue of reclaiming customary land on Guadalcanal island.
Tobani said the IFM has now prepared to negotiate the issue of "State government" with the Solomon Islands government and MEF as one of the prerequisites for restoring normality and peace to the country.
IFM spokesman for West Guadalcanal island Francis Orodani said the issue of land rights and customary ownership was a non-negotiable issue.
The two other delegations from the Solomons government and a joint delegation from the Malaita provincial government and MEF had also flown out of Honiara to Townsville yesterday morning.
More than 100 people representing the three groups are in Australia for the peace talks.