Warring factions sign Solomons peace pact


SYDNEY, AFP

Warring factions in the Solomon Islands Sunday signed a blueprint peace accord aimed at ending two years of ethnic conflict that claimed at least 70 lives, officials said.

A spokesman for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which monitored the talks, said the 30-page agreement was signed after a week of intense negotiations between two rival ethnic militias and the fledgling Solomons government.

Representatives of the Solomons administration, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) and the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM), were preparing to return to the South Pacific islands northeast of Australia aboard Australian and New Zealand air force planes to explain the terms of the deal, he said.

Those terms include an appeal for unarmed international military observers to monitor the situation for at least two years, and an amnesty for militiamen who surrender their weapons within 30 days.

The Malaita and Guadalcanal provincial governments also signed the deal, dubbed the Townsville Peace Agreement.

Signatories devoted significant attention to the sections dealing with the deployment of unarmed military observers and civilian police to monitor the implementation of the agreement.

More than 70 people are known to have died in two years of sporadic fighting between the IFM and the MEF before an MEF led coup ousted the democratically-elected government in June this year.

The IFM represents the natives of the main Solomons island of Guadalcanal. They claim indigenous rights to land around the capital Honiara have been eroded since World War II by settlers from the neighboring island of Malaita.

At least 20,000 Malaitans have been driven out of Guadalcanal, losing their homes and livelihoods.

Sources close to the negotiations told AFP that the issue of outside involvement in monitoring any peace agreement was the major point of contention between the parties.

Peacekeepers will also “maintain safe custody and inventory of arms howsoever surrendered or returned to the government”, according to the agreement, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

“The parties hereby request the government of the Solomon Islands forthwith to advise Australia, New Zealand and the United Nations … to encourage regional nations to participate and assist in the implementation of this peace agreement.”

The DFAT spokesman said the negotiations, which were held within the confines of an air force base near the northeastern Australian city of Townsville, had produced a broad consensus among the 130 delegates.

The Townsville Peace Agreement also includes provisions for both Malaita and Guadalcanal to be granted greater autonomy by the Solomons government “in order to allow the people of Malaita and Guadalcanal to look after their own affairs.”

Along with the dismantling of all roadblocks, bunkers and military camps, “the sale of toy guns and other miniature military items or gimmicks” has been banned.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said consultations would begin with the Solomons government on how Australia could contribute.

“The peace agreement signed today in Townsville lays the ground for a desperately needed return to normal life without the threat of violence in the Solomon Islands,” Downer said in a statement.

Downer did, however, commit Canberra to providing some form of assistance.

“Implementation of the agreement will allow Australia to deliver the assistance we have promised to support the reconstruction of the devastated Solomon Islands economy and to provide other peace dividends,” he said.

“Australia accepts that external involvement of this sort could be an important support for peace and will consult closely with the Solomon Islands government and other interested governments in determining how best we can contribute to such a team.”