Page last updated at 10:31 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 11:31 UK

Solomons launches truth inquiry

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (file photo)
The launch was attended by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Thousands of Solomon Islanders have attended the launch of a national truth and reconciliation commission in the capital, Honiara.

The panel will investigate the conflict between rival ethnic militias in which more than 100 people died and 20,000 were displaced between 1997 and 2003.

The unrest was centred on the main island of Guadalcanal.

The launch was attended by the South African Nobel laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The archbishop told a large crowd that if peace could come to South Africa, then the same could happen in the Solomon Islands.

Tribal grievances

Years of ethnic conflict took the South Pacific archipelago to the brink of total collapse, which forced the intervention of international peacekeepers led by Australia in 2003.

Although order has been restored, tribal tensions and other grievances still fester and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been established to foster long-term harmony.

The country was almost torn apart by the fighting between the Isatabu Freedom Movement - which comprised indigenous residents of Guadalcanal, and the Malaita Eagle Force, a well-armed militia from a neighbouring province.

The rival groups fought over jobs, land rights and political power.

Tribal grievances still simmer and while many serious cases arising from the conflict, including murder and extortion, have been handled by the courts, other matters involving theft and sexual assault have not been resolved.

These are the cases the new commission will hear.

The independent body is made up of three commissioners from the Solomon Islands and two from overseas.

The inquiry hopes that traditional methods of reconciliation, such as compensation and apology, will be enough to guide the country away from the bitterness and resentment of the past.

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