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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Solomons missionaries 'dead'
Harold Keke
Harold Keke is blamed for dozens of deaths
Six missionaries taken hostage by a Solomon Islands warlord are all dead, according to the Australian diplomat leading the multinational peacekeeping force there.

Nick Warner said he was told of the deaths during a meeting with the notorious rebel leader Harold Keke on the island of Guadalcanal.

But he also said that Mr Keke had promised to surrender his weapons to the peacekeepers within a week, and agreed to allow the intervention force to open a police post near his stronghold.

Mr Warner gave no details of how or when the missionaries had died.

The six hostages were members of an indigenous Anglican order called the Melanesian Brotherhood.

They had been held by Harold Keke for several months in his hideout in the remote Weathercoast region, and at one stage were shown on Australian television smiling and sharing a meal with the rebel leader.

In July three of their colleagues were released on the eve of the arrival of the intervention force.

Church leaders said they had no idea why the men had been taken hostage, but correspondents say Mr Keke is thought to have seized them to use as human shields if the peacekeeping force launched an attack against his men.

The multinational intervention force of about 2,000 troops arrived in the Solomons on 24 July, to try to restore stability to the Pacific nation and end the rampant corruption.

Mr Keke is one of the chief reasons for their intervention.

He and his militia have been blamed for a string of killings around Weathercoast, and he is said to have personally killed a government minister.

At least 1,200 people are said to have fled nearby villages in recent weeks, to escape Mr Keke and his followers.

One of the intervention force's main priorities is to disarm the different rebel factions.

Since the force's arrival, Mr Warner has already led successful talks with leaders of the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), and the leader of another rebel group, Andrew Te'e.

Both groups have pledged to surrender their arms before a nationwide firearms amnesty expires on 21 August.

It now appears that Harold Keke may be willing to do the same.


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