Solomon Islands Elect New PM
Jun. 30, 2000
HONIARA, Solomon Islands (AP) _ Legislators narrowly elected a former opposition leader as the new prime minister of the Solomon Islands on Friday, and he pledged to end 19 months of ethic violence that has killed up to 60 people.
Mannasseh Sogavare replaces ousted Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, who resigned two weeks ago after armed rebels from the island of Malaita held him at gunpoint and seized the capital, Honiara, on the main island of Guadalcanal.
``My new government will address the crisis that has been affecting this nation this last 19 months,'' Sogavare said. ``My government is committed to bring Solomon Islands into national unity and reconciliation.''
The dispute has pitted the Malaitans against the indigenous Isatabus of Guadalcanal, who have expelled 20,000 migrants from nearby Malaita, who sought jobs and land on Guadalcanal. Up to 60 people have been killed in the fighting.
All but six of Parliament's 50 legislators attended Friday's vote in Honiara. The six missing lawmakers were from the government side. Sogavare was elected by 23-21.
In nominations Monday, the government coalition put forward two candidates _ the Rev. Leslie Boseto, the former minister of lands and housing; and backbencher Francis Bill Hilly. The opposition nominated Sogavare.
Balloting went ahead Thursday amid tight security after a vote scheduled for Wednesday was called off because lawmakers on the Pacific island refused to attend, fearing for their safety.
Sogavare said he would seek a lasting peace by Christmas and pledged to offer an amnesty to both warring militias once they surrendered their arms.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer welcomed the election and urged Sogavare to ease tensions.
``A first task of the new government must be the immediate pursuit of a peace process and to address and resolve ethnic conflict, which has done so much damage to the country,'' he said.
A spokesman for the Malaitan rebels, Andrew Nori, had said his group would accept any of the three prime ministerial candidates.
But he warned the cease-fire of the last two weeks could shatter if the government impasse was not resolved quickly.
The Malaitan rebels control the capital while the armed Isatabu group hold the countryside.