MEF Threats Ground Solomon Airline Flight
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By Duran Angiki USP's Pacific Journalism Online correspondent
GIZO, Solomon Islands (WP): Four days after the signing of the peace-agreement in Townsville, Australia, a Solomon Airline scheduled flight to the Western Solomons was grounded today for several hours after the pilot received threats.
A commander of the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), Sergeant Maelanga, demanded SBD$5,000 and two "tafuli" from the Western Solomons State government.
Tafuli is an ethnic Malaitan traditional money, culturally used among Malaitans as an equivalent of the current dollar currency.
Travellers who were supposed to board the flight said the MEF militia went to the Henderson Airport and grounded the flight while demanding compensation.
The flight was boarded by mostly invited guests to the "Joint Leaders Consultative Meeting of Western and Choiseul States" which opened today in Gizo.
Delegates who had arrived later in Gizo said the militia had threatened that if the Western Solomons failed to pay the demand, they would blow up the aircraft on its return.
Following the delayed flight, organizers of the meeting in Gizo postponed the official opening from 8.30am to 2pm to give resource people time to arrive and attend.
Airline officials said the threat was issued following an incident in the Western Solomons where an ethnic Malaitan of the MEF was allegedly harassed.
The officials said the airline had been liaising with the government, the MEF commander and the Western Solomons to settle the matter amicably.
A spokesman for the Western Solomons government confirmed today having received information about the demand from the management of the airline.
He said the Premier of Western Solomons had already made arrangements with the Prime Minister who had agreed to pay compensation.
Intelligence officials in Gizo said the younger brother of Sergeant Maelanga was roughed up at Gizo hotel three weeks ago due to his "illegal activities" in the state.
Officials said that during the time of the incident Western Solomons security officers disarmed Maelanga of a pistol with five rounds.
It was on that basis that security officers interrogated him. He revealed that he had been in possession of a high-powered SLR 88 and the pistol.
The officials said Maelanga also revealed that he was sent and instructed by his ethnic militia in Honiara to carry out a task in the Western Solomons.
Efforts to get the MEF spokesman to comment about the issue were not successful.