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Friday, 20 October, 2000, 07:54 GMT
Solomons celebrates peace deal
Solomons rebels
Two years of militia fighting has forced thousands to flee their homes
Celebrations have been taking place in the Solomon Islands to mark the signing of a peace treaty aimed at ending two years of civil war.

These guys who were shooting each other are shaking hands like they were old friends

Honiara resident
Members of rival ethnic militias have been parading around the streets of the capital, Honiara, hugging one another and shaking hands.

Hundreds of residents cheered on the celebrations, with many reported to be in tears.

"The militants are hugging each other, it's very emotional on the streets," one resident said. "These guys who were shooting each other are shaking hands like they were old friends."

Two years of conflict between natives of the main island of Guadalcanal, known as Isatabus, and migrants from the neighbouring island of Malaita has left more than 70 dead and forced thousands to flee their homes.

Map of Solomons
The fighting erupted in 1998 when the Isatabus started evicting Malaitans from the island, accusing them of taking jobs and land. At least 20,000 Malaitans were forced off Guadalcanal.

The tensions led to fighting between militia groups from each side, the Malaitan Eagle Force (MEF) and the rival Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM).

The crisis peaked in June this year when the MEF staged an attempted coup which led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu.

Weapons surrender

The peace agreement signed in the Australian city of Townsville on Sunday calls for disarmament, repatriation, and investigations into land ownership.

Fighting erupted out of a dispute over land ownership rights
Under the deal unarmed peacekeepers from Australia and New Zealand will be deployed to supervise the handover of arms and an amnesty for militiamen who surrender their weapons within 30 days.

The agreement also outlines plans for the economic development of Malaita island including an international airport, seaport and new agricultural enterprises.

However the cash-strapped government of Prime Minister Mannasseh Sogavare is unclear where it is going to get the money to pay for such developments.

On Monday it was suggested that the Solomons might switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China in exchange for funds to back the peace treaty.

The announcement followed a visit by Foreign Minister Danny Philip to China last week, instead of making a planned visit to Taiwan, the Solomon Islands' diplomatic partner of 17 years.

A decision on diplomatic allegiance is expected within a week.

The Solomons receives US$10m in foreign aid from Taiwan, but its requests for an increase in aid to US$200m were rebuffed.

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See also:

16 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
NZ troops set for Solomons
15 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Solomons peace deal reached
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Ethnic tension behind Solomons coup
05 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Pacific unrest linked?
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