Solomon Island rebels reject peace

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The Independent Online

Ignoring a cease-fire deal, fighters from one of two warring factions on the Solomon Islands advanced into enemy territory Wednesday.

Ignoring a cease-fire deal, fighters from one of two warring factions on the Solomon Islands advanced into enemy territory Wednesday.

Claiming to be acting in retaliation for the killing Tuesday of one of their fighters, commanders of the Malaitan Eagle Force said they had launched a "major offensive" into an area west of the capital, Honiara, which had been controlled by the rival Isatabu militia.

Using a bulldozer which has metal plates welded onto its sides to form a crude tank, Malaitan fighters moved from their stronghold on Honiara's western edge into outlying villages, burning houses as they went, the commanders claimed.

One Malaitan fighter was taken to hospital with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp. reported. It was not immediately known if there were any casualties on the Isatabu side.

The advance breaches a cease-fire agreement signed on Saturday by leaders of both factions, which set boundaries for agreed "areas of influence" for each side.

Malaitan spokesman Andrew Nori said on Tuesday his side considered the cease-fire was terminated because Isatabu fighters shot and killed one of their men on Tuesday.

The simmering ethnic conflict in the Solomons, a Pacific Ocean archipelagic nation 2,560 kilometers (1,600 miles) northeast of Sydney, Australia, escalated June 5 when fighters seized Honiara on the main island of Guadalcanal.

They were angered by the expulsion of some 20,000 migrants from the island of Malaita who had come to Guadalcanal over the years seeking work. Pushing them out were indigenous Guadalcanal residents, known as Isatabus.

More than 19 months of fighting killed at least 60 people.

The fresh fighting threatens to derail the peace process in the Solomons. Members of a cease-fire monitoring council were scheduled to meet with Isatabu leaders on Thursday.

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