Thu, Aug 14, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Solomons warlord Keke in custody of Australians

AP , CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA

Warlord Harold Keke, accused in the deaths of 50 villagers and hostages, has surrendered to an Australian-led peacekeepers trying to end a civil war in the Solomon Islands, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday.

Downer said that Keke was under arrest and would face a murder investigation.

Last week in talks with a senior Australian diplomat, Keke allegedly admitted that six local missionaries kidnapped by his forces this year had been killed.

Officials say Keke's forces have razed about 15 villages, killed people, and taken hostages for four years. Keke is allegedly responsible for the deaths of up to 50 people this year, and last year boasted of killing a government minister.

"The Guadalcanal militant leader Harold Keke surrendered ... on the Weather Coast of the island of Guadalcanal earlier today," Downer told Australia's Parliament. "A full investigation of crimes including murder allegedly committed by Harold Keke and his group can now proceed."

Keke's surrender sends a "very clear message to other militants" that they now could also hand in their weapons before a three-week gun amnesty ends on Aug. 21, Downer said

Downer said Keke was now on his way to the capital Honiara on an Australian navy ship HMAS Manoora. Keke would be kept in protective custody by the intervention force and receive all the rights accorded under Solomon Islands law. His arrest was made on an outstanding warrant for robbery.

The Australian-led force of 2,000 troops and 300 police arrived in the Solomon Islands in late July to help end widespread lawlessness and corruption that has paralyzed and nearly bankrupted the South Pacific nation in the aftermath of a coup in 2000.

Although a peace deal was brokered late in 2000 and elections restored democracy, Keke had refused to sign the pact.

"For the first time in a long time the Weather Coast can return to peace and stability free from the fear of executions and the village burnings," New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said. "It is of huge symbolic importance that the rule of law can be restored and Keke and his lieutenants face appropriate charges."

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza was on a plane heading for New Zealand when news broke of Keke's capture.

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