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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
New bid for Solomons peace
Malaita Eagles rebels
The conflict spilled over into a coup attempt in June
Talks aimed at ending two years of fighting on the Solomon Islands have begun in Australia, amid warnings of the cost of failure.

Two militia groups - the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) and the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) - have already held one round of talks which ended in failure in September.

Map of Solomons
Australia and New Zealand, which have brokered the talks, say the Solomons could slide towards social and economic disintegration if a solution is not found.

The conflict erupted in 1988, when the indigenous Isatabu community tried to evict Malaitans from the island of Guadalcanal, angry at the economic dominance being achieved by the migrants.

The violence since then has claimed the lives of more than 60 people, and forced thousands more from their homes.

The Solomons is very much on the brink

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer
In June the Malaita Eagles took their grievances onto the streets of the capital, Honiara, staging an attempted coup which led to the resignation of the then prime minister, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu.

The new round of talks, being held in the northern Australian airforce base of Townsville, is expected to focus on compensation, disarmament and the creation of a police force to re-establish law and order.

"The Solomons is very much on the brink," said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

"Its economy has plunged, its exports have very largely disappeared and we are anxious that this peace process can proceed successfully."

Bartholomew Ulufa'alu
Bartholomew Ulufa'alu was forced to quit
A spokesman for the MEF said he accepted the situation was at a critical point.

"If there is a failure on our part now, the repercussions will be serious," said Andrew Nori.

IFM representative Ezekial Alebua said around US$100m was needed for compensation, along with millions of extra dollars to rebuild the economy.

"The economy is sinking - it's almost a wreck now," he said. Both Australia and New Zealand have pledged financial help if a peace deal can be reached.

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See also:

25 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Talks seek end to Solomons bloodshed
07 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Solomons rebels offered deal
25 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Solomon ceasefire talks stumble
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Ethnic tension behind Solomons coup
06 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Commonwealth threatens Solomons
05 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Pacific unrest linked?
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