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Malaita Eagles Force
Isatabu Freedom Movement

Solomon Islands, with a population of approximately 450,000, is an archipelago stretching over 840 miles in the South Pacific. There are six major and approximately 992 smaller islands, attolls and reefs. The archipelago covers are area of about 249,000 square nautical miles while the land area is 10,938 sq. miles (28,446 sq. Km). About 75 percent of the population engage to some extent in subsistence farming and fishing and have little involvement in the cash economy. Commercial activities include some plantation production of copra, cocoa, and palm oil, one fish cannery, a gold mine on Guadalcanal, and small resort and diving enterprises.

The first documented European contact was made in 1568 by the Spanish explorer, Alvaro de Mendana. Mendana discovered alluvial gold on Guadalcanal and, perhaps thinking he found the source of King Solomon's great wealth (the Biblical King Solomon's mine), named the islands the "Isles of Solomon," and many of the islands in the Solomon Islands bear original Spanish names. Great Britain declared a Protectorate in 1893 over the southern Solomons, adding the Santa Cruz group in 1898 and 1899. The islands of the Shortland group were transferred by treaty from Germany to Great Britain in 1900. The British Solomons gained independence as the Solomon Islands on 07 July 1978.

The country is composed of over 27 islands with approximately 70 language groups. In the precolonial era, these groups existed in a state of endemic warfare with one another, and even today many islanders see themselves first as members of a clan, next as inhabitants of their natal island, and only third as citizens of their nation. Most people consider themselves to be part of an immediate family of 200 and can trace back their ancestors at least ten generations.

Situated on the island of Guadalcanal, the country's biggest island, Honiara is the capital of and gateway to Solomon Islands. During World War II the fight for Guadalcanal was the first battle to include an American amphibious invasion of Japanese-held territory. The invasion was launched on 07 August 1942, and jungle fighting continued until American forces had secured the island in early February 1943. After the Second World War, much of the development in the Solomons concentrated around Honiara. The Malaitans, who comprise about one-third of the population, generally dominate the elected government and the business sector around Honiara.

Malaita Province is one of the most populous and developed of the Solomon Islands' Provinces. It consists of the main island of Malaita, home to many tribes of Melanesian peoples with many different language groups and customs, South Malaita island, and the two remote Polynesian atolls of Sikaiana and Ontong Java (or Lord Howe) to the east and far north, respectively. The Provincial capital is AukiOver the past century, many persons from the poor, heavily populated island of Malaita have settled on Guadalcanal where the resentment they engendered culminated in violence.

During 1999 ethnic violence perpetrated by some indigenous residents of Guadalcanal against immigrants from Malaita (both constituent parts of the country) led to several deaths, kidnapings, and the flight of nearly 23,000 persons from Guadalcanal. An uncounted number of Guadalcanal villagers also abandoned their homes to hide in the bush for extended periods, due to fear of militant and police activity or retribution from dispossessed Malaitans.

Two armed rival factions have emerged in the crisis. The Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) claims indigenous rights to land on Guadalcanal and wants the Malaitans to move out of the capital, Honiara. The Malaita Eagles Force (MEF) is fighting for land and buildings left behind in Honiara by Malaitans who have fled Guadalcanal

The violence began in January 1999 when Guadalcanal militants began attacking homesteads and workplaces of persons originally from the island of Malaita. There is considerable confusion, but it is estimated that the militants killed 12 persons. Guadalcanal militants admitted to kidnaping a prison officer, and 17 other persons were reported missing on Gualdalcanal. Some of the missing may have been killed; others were believed to be held by militants.

To deal with this crisis, the Parliament enacted a 4-month state of emergency on 17 June 1999, which extended the arrest and search powers of the police and resulted in infringements on citizens' rights and also included limits on press reporting and freedom of association.

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