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Harold Keke in a prison van
in Honiara after surrender

 

From Issue 46, Autumn 2003

Wave of sympathy over murdered brothers

MESSAGES of condolence from around the world I poured into the Solomons home of the Melanesian Brotherhood following the disclosure that seven brothers, held hostage by warlord Harold Keke and his gang in the Guadalcanal Weathercoast, had been killed.

Brother Richard Carter, the Anglican order’s British chaplain, said that letters had been received from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United Stares, Vanuatu. Switzerland. Germany. Ireland. South Africa. India - and Iraq.

Thousands of Solomon Islanders crowded into St Barnabas Cathedral in Honiara for a four-hour memorial and thanksgiving service, which was broadcast live to the nation.

Services were also held in PNG, Australia and New Zealand as well as at Exeter and Chester cathedrals in Britain.

Archbishop James Ayong, Anglican Primate of PNG, was among more than 80 mourners at St Philip’s in Earls Court, London.

Bro. Richard revealed that six brothers, including the deputy head brother, Robin Lindsay, were apparently murdered soon after they went to the Weathercoast in April to recover the body of another brother who, they knew, had been killed.

Archbishop Ellison Pogo strongly refuted rumours that they had been spying for the government.

Four days after their deaths were confirmed in August, Keke a 32-year-old policeman turned warlord surrendered to Nick Warner, the Australian diplomat appointed to co-ordinate the Australian-led intervention force, in Mbiti, the main village of his stronghold.

He and his entourage of nine, including two top lieutenants, were flown to an Australian troopship, HMAS Manoora, and taken to Honiara.

They later appeared at a makeshift court and were remanded in custody on charges of attempted murder and theft.

   Investigations are continuing into Keke’s alleged role in dozens of killings including the Melanesian Brothers, a government minister and a Catholic priest, More than l,000 refugees from the Weathercoast have testified  to a “reign of terror of murders, rapes and torched villages.

Keke’s surrender, following weeks of negotiations, was a watershed in efforts to disarm militants in years of ethnic fighting between the Guadalcanalese and the settlers from Malaita. Keke had refused to take part in the peace talks in Townsville. Australia.

The arrival of an Australian ­led 2,230-strong intervention force of troops, police and civilian advisers in the Solomons in July was the biggest military operation since the Second World War. The force includes personnel from Fiji, New Zealand, PNG and Tonga. A Canberra official said the role of the troops would be “to act as waiters and bouncers” to the police.

Technically, the action, Helpem Fren, is in response to an appeal by the Solomon’s prime minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza, and is a joint operation by the Pacific Islands Forum.

The intervention is seen as marking a new beginning in the region which will be more heavily influenced in future by Australia and New Zealand. Both countries have long resisted raising their profile. Barely a few months ago such a deployment would have been Inconceivable

But things have changed since Iraq. The fear is that domestic and economic chaos could provide a haven for gun runners, drug dealers and terrorists. The collapse of states such as the Solomons is not seen just as a humanitarian problem, but a security one.

Re-establishment of law and order will continue to be a priority, in conjunction with a crackdown on illegal weapons. A 21-day gun amnesty ended at midnight on Aug 22 with 3.700 guns surrendered.

An urgent corollary is to prop up the crumbling economy. Australia has given a £10.4m additional aid package to stabilise this year’s budget, and provided 17 advisers for the Ministry of Finance

John Howard, Australia’s prime minister, predicted in late September that more interventions may be needed in the region,

Of the Solomons-type operation, he said: ‘I think there’ll be more of those. And we certainly have to make sure that we have a capacity to deal with them,’’

But he would not give a date for the withdrawal of the intervention force from the Solomons.