The Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee completed another successful hearing at Marau, East Guadalcanal on Saturday 4 April 2009 at Potau Community High School.

The hearing is part of the Committee's on going inquiry into the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands and is the second hearing held on Guadalcanal Province since the inquiry began in mid 2008.

The hearings at Marau covered wards 9 to 12 (Avuavu, Moli, Tetekanji and Birao) in the East Guadalcanal Constituency and saw a total of 36 witnesses giving evidence on their views of the work undertaken by RAMSI since 2003 .

In his opening remarks, chairman Hon. Laurie Chan explained that the Committee represented the National Parliament of Solomon Islands and was not part of the RAMSI Outreach Program, as was often thought by many witnesses in previous hearings.

The Committee noted the importance for a hearing to be held at Marau, given its experience in the ethnic tension.

Marau is situated on east Guadalcanal but the Marau 'area' includes around 35 islands and islets stretched out along the coast of the mainland.

The area is part of Guadalcanal Province but most of the islands are inhabited by Are'are speaking tribes, who are mainly descendants of people from the Are'are and South Malaita language groups in Malaita and Ulawa in Makira/Ulawa province.

This pattern may be attributed to the close proximity between Marau and Malaita. During the ethnic tension between 1998 and 2003, Marau was the scene of heavy clashes between militant groups from Guadalcanal and Malaita.

Despite the restoration of law and order and ensuing peace since the arrival of RAMSI, the emotional effects of the ethnic tension still resonates among the villagers in Marau.

This was particularly felt during the recent Hearing when former rival tribes put aside unresolved issues, to participate in the Inquiry; and for the first time so far, all witnesses' expressed collective support for RAMSI's continued stay in the Solomon Islands.

Most witnesses focused on their experiences in the ethnic tension and the effects of RAMSI to the restoration of peace in the area.

A majority of the chiefs submitted that progress towards a stable Solomon Islands could only be achieved through proper reconciliation between the people and government triggered development in provincial areas.

The Committee will conduct further hearings at Rennell/Bellona Province, Makira/Ulawa Province and Central Province in the coming weeks.

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