Warlord Paid SID$500,000 Before Releasing Hostage
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USP's Pacific Journalism Online correspondent
GIZO, Western Solomons (WP): The Solomon Islands government secretly paid SIB$500,000 to the ethnic militia on West Guadalcanal for the release of Solomon Airlines pilot Eric Rove, the militia claim.
"Seleni yia hem hard cash and hem stap long here this time," (the money is in hard cash and in my possession) confirmed the general commander of the Guadalcanal Liberation Front (GLF), Harold Keke.
Guadalcanal ethnic militia captured Captain Rove with his nine-seater Islander aeroplane at Mbabanakira in south-west Guadalcanal Island six weeks ago.
The aeroplane is still under the control of the GLF's general. The government and the airline have been so far unsuccessful in negotiating for its release.
The Guadalcanal militia headed by Keke held pilot Rove hostage and demanded SID$2 million from the government for the release of the aircraft.
General Keke said in an interview yesterday the Minister of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, Alan Kemakeza, paid the money through an intermediary.
Following the hijacking of the aircraft, the government and the Solomon Airlines used the services of the Anglican Church Brotherhood "Tasiu" to mediate between them and the militia leader.
The GLF general added that Kemakeza strongly warned him not to reveal any information about the settlement.
A spokesman for the Ministry of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, Martin Karani said yesterday the ministry was not aware of any such payment to Keke.
He said if the payment of the money had been made to Keke, probably the only one who would be in a position to comment about it was the minister.
The spokesman confirmed yesterday afternoon that the minister had attended a meeting and was unable to answer any question about the payment.
Following the release of the pilot on September 18 without his aircraft, the government and the Solomon Airlines management remained silent about the payment.
General Keke appealed to Guadalcanal people to remain loyal to the course and not to accept bribes from the government in the form of compensation for peace.
He reiterated his earlier called for Guadalcanal militants not to honor the peace agreement and refrain from bribery that might hinder their goal of freedom.
General Keke said it was hard to believe that the government had repatriated MEF members from Honiara back to Malaita, considering that more than 80 percent of them were police officers.
The West Guadalcanal militia leader said the agreement had compromised the land that many Guadalcanal young men had been killed for in its defence over the last 21 months.
He accused the political leaders of Guadalcanal Province of trading the aspirations of Guadalcanal people to ensure that they remained on the government payroll.
The general said it was now obvious that leaders of the MEF, IFM, Malaita and Guadalcanal Provinces and the government had been making money out of the conflict.