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Solomon Island Peace Talks Delayed

July 24, 2000

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (AP) _ Peace talks between warring militias involved in a 19-month dispute on the Solomon Islands were postponed Monday after key commanders failed to turn up.

The talks, aimed at securing a cease-fire, were to have begun last Friday but fell through that day after three commanders from one of the militias failed to show up.

The same three, and other negotiators, were missing again Monday, raising fears that rebels from the main island of Guadalcanal are not interested in seeking peace.

The Solomons, an archipelago nation 1,600 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia, has been plagued by deadly ethnic conflict for more than a year.

It escalated on June 5 when Malaitan rebels seized Honiara, on Guadalcanal. The rebels were angered by the expulsion of some 20,000 Malaitan migrants by indigenous Guadalcanal residents, known as Isatabus. The migrants had come to Guadalcanal seeking work over the past years.

The well-armed Malaitans still control Honiara. The Isatabus, a ragtag group armed mostly with homemade weapons and dressed in traditional loincloths, hold most areas of Guadalcanal outside the city.

Talks had been due to begin on an Australian naval supply ship, the HMAS Tobruk, which is anchored off Honiara and is considered a neutral venue by both sides. They were postponed until Thursday.

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