4 Sep 2002

Vanuatu prime minister says more reconciliation meetings needed

7:14 am on 4 September 2002

The prime minister of Vanuatu, Edward Natapei, says a further custom settlement will be needed to close a rift between the police force and its paramilitary wing, the Vanuatu Mobile Force.

He says this rift grew out of the abduction by some officers of the then president, Jean Marie Leye, in 1996, in a dispute over unpaid allowances.

It was widened last week when armed VMF members tried to arrest 27 senior police on mutiny related charges.

At the weekend, the 27 officers, members of the VMF, the council of chiefs and the government, held a traditional reconciliation to ease concerns of growing tensions in the country.

The officers have agreed they will appeear in court later this week to answer the charges, while the government has re-instated them after they were suspended last week.

Mr Natapei says the government will look into healing the long standing differences between some police and VMF members once the trial is over.

"My feeling is that after all these events in the last few days we will have sit down and find a way to reconcile the two groups and that will have to come in the form of another custom ceremony I think."

Edward Natapei.