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Solomons Militia sign breakthrough pact

Solomons Militia sign breakthrough pact

* See PN item 3038

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WARRING Solomon Islands militia groups yesterday signed a breakthrough peace agreement aimed at ending the two-year ethnic conflict that has pushed the South Pacific nation to the brink of disintegration, the Australian reports.

Hostilities are to cease immediately and the free movement of "people, food and fuel" is to be resumed in return for a general amnesty, under the terms of the Townsville peace agreement struck after a week of intense negotiations at the Garbutt RAAF base in Townsville yesterday.

All arms and ammunition are to be surrendered and militia members repatriated to their home provinces of Malaita and Guadalcanal within 30 days.

Although the importation of arms is to be banned for three years, the surrendered arms are to be stored for two years on the home islands of both militia groups under the supervision of an unarmed international peace-monitoring group.

Members of the country's police and paramilitary bodies who took part in the armed takeover of the capital, Honiara, in June are also to be allowed to continue in their duties, although some may be redeployed to community policing within their home provinces.

Repatriated militia members are to be employed in a program of public works in conjunction with non-government organisations within three months of returning home.

The 30-page agreement covers a wide range of special provisions including improved health and education services and fast-tracked economic development for the provinces of Guadalcanal and Malaita.

It directs that a constitutional commission must be established to amend the Solomons' independence constitution to provide for self-government for all the country's nine provinces and a commission of inquiry be held into the validity of land transactions on Guadalcanal, which sparked the conflict two years ago.

It also directs the Government to legislate for a special criminal and civil amnesty for all illegal acts carried out as part of the conflict in the past two years, but ties it to the surrender of weapons.

"Any person who unlawfully possesses or uses any firearms and ammunition (and) refuses to surrender the same shall not be granted amnesty," the agreement says.

All sides to the conflict yesterday renounced violence, reaffirming their respect for human rights.

"The parties to this agreement hereby declare that they renounce, deplore and do solemnly give up violence and the use of armed force and undertake to settle their differences through consultation and peaceful negotiation," says the agreement, which was signed by key members of the rival Malaita Eagle Force and the Isatabu Freedom Movement as well as Solomons Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, Allan Kemakeza.

It provides for the return of all property stolen during the conflict, which saw close to 20,000 Malaitans expelled at gunpoint from the island of Guadalcanal and left an estimated 100 dead.

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