5 Mar 2004

Trial begins today of two Solomon Islanders charged with murdering Australian missionary

10:17 am on 5 March 2004

The trial of two defendants suspected of beheading Australian missionary, Lance Gersbach in Solomon Islands last year, is scheduled to start today in Auki, the capital of Malaita province.

The decapitated body of Gersbach was found in May last year at a work site near the Ato'ifi Hospital in eastern Malaita, where Gersbach had been working as an accountant.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church, which staffs the hospital threatened to close it down if the murderers did not surrender to the police or were not handed over by the community.

Our correspondent says there's some concern that the two men who will be facing trial are merely scapegoats put up by the local community to ensure the hospital remained operational.

The trial is expected to last several days and conclude next week.