Wed, Jul 09, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Solomons leader asks lawmakers to pass rescue plan


The Solomon Islands' prime minister yesterday urged lawmakers to approve legislation clearing the way for Australian-led troops and police to come in and help stop the country from plunging into anarchy.

Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza recommended that legislators endorse a request from the head of state, Governor General Sir John Inilapli, for Australia to head the 2,000-strong armed intervention force.

Inilapli on Monday formally requested that Australia send a force to combat rising crime and violence in the Pacific Island nation of 480,000 people, located 3,800km northeast of New Zealand.

Kemakeza also asked lawmakers to pass a bill allowing the force to operate in the country. Diplomatic observers and parliamentary sources said they expect quick and overwhelming approval.

Last Friday, rebel warlord Harold Keke, blamed for up to 50 killings that have been part of the violence, offered the government a unilateral ceasefire after three years of brutal defiance of its rule by his armed militants.

Kemakeza said his Cabinet would consider the ceasefire proposal this week.

There have been growing demands for amnesty from militants, armed with powerful modern weapons taken from police armories.

Business and diplomatic sources in Honiara said the government was unlikely to show any leniency toward the militants and rogue police for crimes -- including murder, extortion, robbery and kidnapping -- committed over the past few years.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said yesterday the Solomons were fast becoming ungovernable as armed thugs, warlords and corrupt police disrupted normal life.

"The overwhelming majority of Solomon Islanders want something done to restore the rule of law ... so that the economy can get going again," Goff said on New Zealand's National Radio.

The Solomons could collapse as a state, with "bloodletting [and] ... enormous violence," he said.

Goff said about 300 armed thugs were operating around Honiara, while Keke's band of up to 60 armed supporters were on the rugged Weather Coast of the main island, Guadalcanal.

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