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Signing of Cease-Fire Deal Delayed

August 1, 2000

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (AP) _ Rival ethnic militias that have been fighting a bitter conflict over land and jobs postponed Tuesday’s signing ceremony for a cease-fire agreement, dashing hopes that 19 months of violence would end.

The agreement was to have been signed aboard the Australian naval supply ship HMAS Tobruk moored off the Solomons’ capital, Honiara, by rebels known as Isatabus from the Pacific nation’s main island of Guadalcanal and natives of neighboring Malaita island.

But Malaitan representatives rejected the deal at the last minute, saying they wanted to be given control of a large section of land around Honiara that is currently in Isatabu hands.

The signing was tentatively rescheduled for Wednesday, but the latest sticking point may take longer than a day to resolve.

Senior government negotiator Sir Peter Kenilorea asked the country to be patient.

Fighting between the militias has left more than 60 dead and forced thousands from their homes. It started after Isatabus forced Malaitan immigrants off Guadalcanal saying they were taking jobs and land.

The well-armed Malaitans have had the upper hand against the Isatabus, who often fight wearing traditional loin cloths and armed with homemade weapons. But nobody has been able to score a decisive victory.

The cease-fire was to have taken effect 48 hours after the signing. The deal also contained a pledge to begin peace talks in a week, let police start re-establishing law and set up a cease-fire monitoring council in the Pacific archipelago 1,600 miles north of Sydney, Australia.

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