3 Jun 2003

Solomons police evacuate civilians from strife-torn southern Guadalcanal

11:31 am on 3 June 2003

Solomon Islands police have evacuated around 80 people from parts of the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal where rebel leader Harold Keke has his stronghold.

A police team is pursuing Keke, who has been blamed for dozens of recent deaths, including four who died when houses were burnt down last week.

The police spokesman, Charles Lemoa, says more people are being brought to Honiara, where they are being housed at the Police Club and cared for by the Red Cross and other groups.

He says they are being taken out of the line of fire.

"I think the police now have seen that in order for them to get in there the place must be cleared, because if they have to counter any attack from Harold Keke and his group, they don't want civilians caught in any crossfire."

Amnesty International's Pacific Researcher has condemned the actions of civilian members of the police team hunting Keke who are reported to have taken hostage a woman and her two children.

The woman's husband is said to be a supporter of Keke.

Police cannot confirm the reports, but Heinz Schurmann Zeggel of Amnesty says it may be a type of payback after Keke last month took six Melanesian Brothers hostage.

But Mr Schurmann Zeggel says copying Keke's methods is not the way to resolve the law and order issue.

so if members of the civilian population who are supposedly supporting the police operation in the region now go and copy Harold Keke's methods if that is true by taking an innocent woman and her two children hostage it seems to me the worst possible example they can set