Reconciliation overcoming tension in the Solomon Islands

In Honiara, where much of the fighting occurred during the “Tensions” which brought the Solomon Islands to political and economic collapse a decade ago, people now go about their daily lives with freedom and security.

As the country enters a new phase with the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) withdrawing military personnel this year, many Solomon Islanders acknowledge progress toward reconciliation, but also the need to continue addressing issues of land ownership, development and restoration of a healthy society.

“People have been reconciled and you can see there is healing when there is acceptance, restoration of relationships and communal activities slowly come back,” Rev Graham Mark, Secretary of the Anglican Church of Melanesia’s (ACOM) Commission on Justice, Reconciliation and Peace, said. “All those things tell us we have achieved something, but the challenge is to sustain what has been achieved.”

Resentment by the indigenous Gwales of Guadalcanal towards Malaitan settlers on their island escalated as unemployment and hardship worsened during the 1997-98 Asian economic downturn.

The island of Malaita, 100km east of Guadalcanal Island, is heavily populated and, from the early 1900s, Malaitans dominated migrant labour on Guadalcanal’s plantations and then urban jobs as Honiara became the hub of services and employment.

The local Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) evicted Malaitan settlers, accusing them of taking land and jobs, before taking up arms against rival resistance group Malaita Eagle Force (MEF). By 2002, 35,000 people, or 9 per cent of the population, were displaced, several hundred had died or disappeared and many more experienced or witnessed human rights violations.

The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) began hearing people’s testimonies in 2010 and delivered its final report to the government last year, although it is yet to be passed through Cabinet before public scrutiny.

Reuben Lilo, director of peace and reconciliation in the Ministry of National Unity, says the TRC programme captured the experiences of many people, but more attention is needed to support this occurring in rural areas where there are limited government services. Continue reading


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