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Guadalcanal warlord refuses to accept peace

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SOLOMON IS: Guadalcanal warlord refuses to accept peace

By Duran Angiki

USP's Pacific Journalism Online correspondent

GIZO, Western Solomons (WP): The commander of the Guadalcanal Liberation Front (GLF), "general" Harold Keke, has warned that his group will not honour any agreement coming out of the peace negotiations underway in Townsville, Australia.

"There will never be peace in the Solomon Islands unless Australia and New Zealand stop providing funds to the Solomon Islands government and Malaita Eagle Force (MEF)," said Keke in an exclusive interview through a mobile Satellite telephone yesterday.

"I consider people who attend the peace-negotiation in Australia as disrespect to us."

Keke made the warning as the warring ethnic militia on Guadalcanal Island, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) and Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM), were holding talks in Townsville to end the 20-month conflict.

The peace negotiations now underway in Australia were just another exercise and part of the MEF and Solomon Islands "joint propaganda strategy" to win favour from the international community.

Keke called on Australia, New Zealand and the international community to place sanctions against the Solomon Islands if they strongly believed in true democratic principles.

Since the coup on June 5, which resulted in the MEF effectively taking control of the government and police force, Australia and New Zealand had been facilitating peace talks between the two warring groups.

Instead, Keke appealed to Australia and New Zealand, to stop providing financial assistance to the national government because it was only perpetuating the MEF control and killing of innocent Guadalcanalese.

He warned that the GLF militia would continue to defy any peace agreement if the expectations of Guadalcanal people were not met.

The GLF general, who sparked the current conflict in late 1997 by chasing away ethnic Malaitan settlers on West Guadalcanal, reaffirmed his seriousness about the warning.

Keke, who has a strong following in West Guadalcanal Islands, recently hijacked a Solomon Airlines nine-seater plan and demanded SID$2 million for its release.

The plane is still under his control at his stronghold in south-west Guadalcanal.

He said his decision not to attend the peace talks in Australia had been forced by a number of factors - especially what he alleged as Solomon Islands government collaboration with MEF.

Keke said the government had "deceived" him by promising that if he signed the pre-ceasefire agreement in July, within seven days a foreign force would come to disarm MEF members.

He said the MEF was still in control of Honiara and its armed members had continued to harass people and place blockades on roads to all parts of Guadalcanal.

"We have seen that the government has been controlled by the commander of the Malaita Eagle Force, Andrew Nori.

"Since day one of the coup, Andrew Nori has been dictating almost every government decisions that really worked against us ? the people of Guadalcanal."

The Guadalcanal militia had realised that the government was only needing their signatures as a way of getting access to foreign funding to meet the MEF demands.

An example of such control was reflected in the way the government disbursed displacement and repatriation money to the MEF and IFM.

He said each member of the MEF received SID$1000 and free transportation back to Malaita Province, while the 10,000 members of the Gualdalcanal militants were paid SID$20 each.

Additionally, the government paid SID$6.8 million to the MEF as a compensation package for various demands, but failed to pay the IFM counter claim of SIB$5 million.

Australian Deputy High Commissioner in Honiara Peter McCready yesterday said his government was not aware of any arrangement by the Solomons and its development partners to bring in foreign forces for the task of disarmament.

He declined to make any further comment about the appeal by Keke for Australia to cease financial assistance to the Solomons government.

Prior to the Townsville peace talks on Wednesday, the government and the spokesmen for the warring militia expressed optimism about the outcome of the negotiations.

Guadalcanal leaders also warned in an interview before boarding a flight to Townsville on Monday that peace talks and agreements would not resolve the current conflict if militants ignore them.

The peace negotiations, which the Australian government has dubbed as the last chance and hope for the Solomon Islands to rebuild it crashing economy and disintegrating nation, are scheduled to end on Friday.

* NOTE: The GLF was the first name used by the Guadalcanal militants before they changed to Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA) and now Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM).

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