Solomon Islands forum to hear voices of conciliation

1 JANUARY 2003

The Prime Minister John Howard flies to Fiji today for the Pacific Islands Forum, and once again the Solomon Islands is expected to be the focus of discussion. While relations between Australia and the Solomons becomes increasingly more strained, a CSU PhD student, Cliff Bird, described as “one of the prime intellectuals of the country” is preparing to address a Solomon leadership forum on conflict resolution.

The Pacific Islands Forum prepares to meet in Fiji today, and once again the Solomon Islands is expected to be the focus of discussion.
Relations between Australia and the Solomons have been strained since the election of Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in May. More recently, Sogavare expelled Australian High Commissioner Patrick Cole, and refused to hand over the fugitive Moti, who is wanted in Australia on child sex charges.
Sogavare also recently threatened to review legislation that enables the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands (RAMSI) to operate there. A new Australian chief for RAMSI was announced late last week.
In turn, Prime Minister John Howard says he will request that Australian aid to Pacific nations be linked to improved standards of governance and a better approach to economic development.
Reverend Professor James Haire is one of the world’s leading scholars and promoters of interfaith dialogue in the Australasia-Pacific region. He is Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture (ACC&C) at Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) Canberra Campus. From his monitoring of the situation in the Solomons he says it is slowly improving.
“The situation is getting a little better, but it is not awfully good. The political situation is difficult because the Prime Minister, who initially was very keen on RAMSI, has threatened to throw the Australians out, and Australian Federal Police make up a very large proportion of the police in RAMSI.
“Efforts are being made however to start the healing and rebuilding of the Solomon Islands as a nation.”
Professor Haire is referring to a national forum on leadership which is being held in the Solomon Islands from 1-2 November.
“In the midst of the unrest, it is very important that the Solomons have this discussion, this forum on the future of the country, and I think it is very significant that one of our PhD students is one of the keynote speakers.
“Cliff Bird’s PhD thesis is on Land and Theology in the Solomons. For that reason it involves the whole issue of conflict and conflict resolution. He is one of the prime intellectuals of the country, and knows a tremendous amount about the anthropology of the Solomons and is probably their finest theologian.”
Mr Bird says the forum will include about 300 leaders from all sectors and levels nationwide. “The other three speakers are our Chief Justice, and two other members of the academic community.
“I am looking forward to this timely and crucial forum.”

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