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Last Updated: Monday, 31 January, 2005, 07:21 GMT
Solomons warlord in murder trial
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Harold Keke
Harold Keke is one of the first militia leaders to go on trial
A prominent former rebel leader in the Solomon Islands has gone on trial for murder in the capital Honiara.

Harold Keke has denied killing a member of parliament in August 2002.

He was arrested after Australian peacekeepers were deployed in the troubled South Pacific archipelago 18 months ago.

The former policeman has promised to expose political corruption during the hearing, which is expected to last for up to four weeks.

Appearing in court amid tight security, Mr Keke smiled and laughed as the trial began.

The 34-year-old former rebel commander has been accused of murdering Father Augustine Geve, a Catholic priest and member of parliament.

It is alleged he was shot dead during a peace mission to Mr Keke's remote jungle base.

The prosecution told the court that Mr Keke claimed the MP was misusing money meant for his constituents.

Police in the Solomon Islands have insisted that Mr Keke was responsible for a string of atrocities, including torture and beheadings, during a period of ethnic unrest that began in the late 1990s.

Top militiaman

He is expected to face another trial in the coming months for the kidnap and murder of seven Anglican missionaries.

Mr Keke was among hundreds of rebel fighters who were arrested after the intervention of Australian-led peacekeepers in July 2003.

They were deployed after years of tribal violence had resulted in the breakdown of law and order.

The conflict between indigenous residents of the main island of Guadalcanal and settlers from the province of Malaita was fought over land rights and jobs.

Before the foreign troops arrived, the government in Honiara admitted it was powerless to stop the country's slide into anarchy.

Mr Keke is one of the first high-profile militiamen to go on trial in the Solomon Islands.

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