Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 36: Commonwealth Assistance and Sitiveni Rabuka - an ex- Fiji Prime Minister.
Extract from my memoirs.
The first briefing that was given to the Cabinet following ‘Monarch’s’ intelligence assessment caused genuine concern. One member asked, “What do we do now?”
I had pre-empted the question and said there appeared to be two options, given the urgent need for external assistance in brokering a peace.
I suggested the government ask the Commonwealth Secretariat or the United Nations to intervene in the steadily worsening crisis as we had neither capability, nor capacity to handle the widening insurgency problem ourselves.
Patterson Otti, who was SEAC's Foreign Affairs Minister, scoffed at the report I first gave to the Cabinet that there was an actual Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA) in existence with evidence of militants inciting violence and forcibly removing Malaitan plantation workers from the coastal and northern plains of the province.
I recall him getting up from the table and walking out of the Cabinet Meeting Room as I was speaking.
Once he was presented with the information from Monarch's intelligence assessment he changed his tune; calling me to his office and telling me that the government would follow my recommendation and ask for help from the British Commonwealth.
Patterson Otti could be both complimentary and argumentative.
He once told me that my reports to Cabinet, "were spot on", and yet at my very last Cabinet briefing he attacked me, unfairly, in no uncertain terms, but more of this in a later chapter.
In responding to the Solomon’s request for assistance, the Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyouka, a Nigerian, chose the former Fiji Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka to become the Commonwealth Envoy. He was accompanied by Ade Adefue, an official from the Commonweath Secretariat.
Addressing a meeting of Commonweath Foreign Ministers’ in London, Chief Anyouku said he had selected Rabuku as his representative to the Solomon Islands because, “He is the best man for the job.”
When Rabuka arrived in June 1999, I met with him in his room in the Mendana Hotel and gave him a comprehensive briefing on the situation at that time. Adefue was also present and agreed that he had heard a very clear picture of the crisis from the best source possible – myself.
Rabuka asked, “Are the Malaitan’s indigenous to the islands?” He clearly said “islands.”
And I replied, “Yes.”
His response was blunt, “That’s a pity.”
The implications of his statement were clear. He seemed to have immediately made a biased decision which was in my opinion not needed at this time. One immediately became concerned by his attitude following what he had just said.
As Rabuka went about his work of pacification and negotiation, many people gained the impression, particularly from the dis-possessed Malaitan community, that he was supporting the Guadalcanal militants who, he announced, were fighting for their life and culture, although their activities were illegal.
In view of the gross violation of their human rights, Malaitans, in particular, lost faith in Rabuka’s ability to address their grievances.
One did one’s utmost to co-operate with Rabuka and Adefue but I found it necessary to caution Rabuka to appear more neutral in his understanding of the situation.
Finally, as his understanding of the situation developed, to his credit, Rabuka did try to engineer a peace deal, but his efforts were upset when leading militants on Guadalcanal stated their members would never stop their campaign until all the people of Malaita had left their land, including Honiara.
Speaking in Pidjin, the leader of the Zero-Zero section of the Isatambu Freedom Fighters (IMF), Bakadi, claimed the people of Malaita had never respected Guadalcanal culture.
At the same time Bakadi and his group started putting up roadblocks east of the capital.
To be continued……
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