More unrest in the South Pacific - Solomon Islandsgreenspun.com : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread
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Solomon Islands Prime Minister Taken Hostage, Diplomats Say
Monday, June 5, 2000 By Ray Lilley
WELLINGTON, New Zealand A rebel group fighting in the Solomon Islands took the prime minister hostage Monday and put up road blocks around the capital, officials in New Zealand said. Six armed rebels captured Prime Minister Bartholemew Ulufa'alua early Monday morning and were holding him in "protective custody," a rebel spokesman told a Solomons Islands radio station monitored by officials in Wellington, New Zealand.
Earlier reports that other government officials also had been taken hostage appeared to be incorrect, New Zealand Foreign Ministry spokesman Brad Pattersfield said. However, phone lines were not working and details of the story remained sketchy.
The rebels were demanding that Ulufa'alua resign within 48 hours, said Pattersfield. He said it was unclear where he was being held, or what had motivated the apparent coup attempt.
The armed rebels from the Malaita Eagle Force captured the prime minister early Monday morning and were holding him hostage on the main Solomon island of Guadalcanal, Pattersfield said.
In Canberra, Australia, the country's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the rebels had overrun key installations overnight in the capital, Honiara.
The Malaita Eagle Force rebel group has taken over police stations, the Government Telecommunications Center and key intersections, the department said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear how many fighters the shadowy rebel group had used in its attack, or what kind of support it was receiving from the island's people.
Diplomats in New Zealand said the Malaita Eagle Force also had raided a police armory in Honiara and stolen weapons.
Honiara Mayor Donald Fugui issued warned the city's residents Monday to stay home, Pattersfield said. The streets were reportedly calm Monday.
The apparent coup in the Solomons was the second recently in the South Pacific.
More than two weeks ago, armed rebels captured Fiji's prime minister and more than 30 legislators in that country's parliament. Since then, the military has taken power and accepted many of the rebels' demands, including dismissing the prime minister, the first ever elected from Fiji's ethnic Indian minority. On Monday, the hostages were still being held in Parliament as the military sought a peace deal with the coup leader, George Speight.
In the Solomons, the Malaita Eagle Force and the Isatabu Freedom Movement rebel groups have been fighting each other for 18 months on the Solomons' main island, Guadalcanal. The Solomons are about 2,230 miles northwest of Wellington and 1,600 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia.
The Isatabu force has been fighting to push thousands of migrants from the nearby island of Malaita off Guadalcanal. Honiara, located on Guadalcanal, is largely populated by Malaitans.
The Malaita Eagle Force is resisting that effort. The fighting has left at least 50 people killed or missing, and has forced 20,000 to flee their homes.
Peace talks between the warring factions in the Solomon Islands were called off last week, shortly before they were to have started.
On Monday, it was not immediately possible to reach officials of the Malaita Eagle Force to discuss the coup attempt.
However, Malaitan Eagle Force spokesman Andrew Nori told the Solomons radio station that rebels had taken over Honiara in an attempt to accelerate the peace process and prevent ethnic violence from tearing apart the island nation, New Zealand's foreign ministry reported.
The militia apparently was acting in cooperation with members of the Solomons' police "field force" a small paramilitary unit which acts as the Solomons Islands' de facto army.
The raid on the police armory added to the arms the militia has already amassed, most of which have been found by digging through World War II arms dumps. Guadalcanal was the scene of bitter fight between U.S. and Japanese forces during the war.
-- Deb M. (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 05, 2000