OCEANIA/SOLOMON ISLANDS - CATHOLIC RELIGIOUS DETERMINED TO HELP RESTORE PEACE AND RECONCILIATION WHERE PEOPLE STILL SUFFER BECAUSE OF CIVIL WAR

Monday, 28 July 2003

Honiara (Fides Service) – The Catholic religious of Solomon Island are committed to help stop ethnic fighting by fostering reconciliation and help rebuild a culture of peace and non-violence. This resolution was taken during a "Forum for Religious" meeting for the second time this year.
The first of some 2,225 peacekeepers of the Australian led multi-national force arrived on Thursday 24 July in an attempt to restore law and order and disarm ethnic gangs that have killed more than 30 people this year alone including an Anglican clergyman. The leader of one ethnic group Harold Keke has said openly that he aims for independence, while in several islands there is a danger of anarchy, although in Honiara peace has been secured. The armed groups sack, loot and kidnap. In this situation the people of Solomon Islands, about 450,000, are ever more impoverished due to a collapse of the economy.
In this situation about 55 priests, brothers and sisters spent the morning in reflection, discussion, sharing and prayer. Discussions revolved around Education and the need for the church to be involved at all levels not merely at the high school level. They stressed that Education brings about a discipline of life that is most needed in Solomon Islands.
They voiced satisfaction for the arrival of the Australian led forces. The force has brought in a sense of peace and security. People are now free to move around. Several however expressed their concerns. Sr. Rosario DMI, expressed her fear that the problems of Solomon Islander cannot be solved by an outside force. “Compensation – the cultural form of reconciliation has been abused and can be resolved only by the people of Solomon Islands”, she said. Br. Martin Salo fms said that there were guns in the hands of the youth because they have nothing else. “The young people need to be somebody. They need to be heard and listened to. They want to be noticed” stated Br. Mark Popo fms. “Do we know their needs and are we ready to assist them?” he questioned. Sr. Donnasiana Kauhiri DMI reminded all that “the ‘Women for Peace’ have been constantly involved in encouraging all to return to a life of peace. They need to now continue their efforts for peace as they know the persons possessing arms”. Fr. Jack Harris cm, expressed his fear of possible incidents that will destroy life as has happened in other Interventions the world over. “The greed for money and power has destroyed the country – and we need to join forces to pronounce the Gospel and denounce evil”, said Br. Francis Mc Kinnon op. Fr Frank Vargas cm, concluded stating that “we need to listen to what people are saying, and encourage them to cooperate with the forces to bring about a life of peace and non-violence.”
The next meeting of the “Forum for Religious” will be held on 18th October, 2003. PA (Fides Service 28/7/2003 EM lines 36 Words: 470)


INFO: SOLOMON ISLANDS CONFLICT

Honiara (Fides Service) – A British Protectorate until 1978, Solomon Islands situated in the southern Pacific Ocean north of Australia has not yet overcome the civil war which broke out in 1998-2000. Ethnic violence continues despite a peace agreement signed in October 2000.
The conflict is between special government forces and the Istabu Freedom Movement led by Harold Keke which has been terrorising the population. Despite the peace agreement signed with the mediation of Australia in 2000, the economy has not improved. A primary role was played by finance. A Family Trust attracted the savings of thousands in the Island. But in May 2003 the pyramid collapsed and the two main banks were forced to close. The episode assumed political connotations when the Prime Minister and other MPs were accused of being involved in the fraud.
The collapse of the banks and loss of savings increased social malcontent and disorder. Added to this the country was struck by a devastating cyclone in December 2002 which increased poverty and desperation.
The country gradually fell into a situation of anarchy, with robberies, kidnappings and murders. This led the Prime Minister to ask Australian Premier John Howard to send a multi-national peacekeeping force to restore law and order. Its intervention was approved by Solomons Islands parliament and its task is to restore order in areas controlled by the rebels led by Harold Keke. PA (Fides Service 28/7/2003 EM lines 22 Words: 242)


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