Few memories of violence on Solomon Islands islands

Written by By Philip Peters, CNN

An island off the Solomon Islands just south of Papua New Guinea, an experience few are prepared for, and everyone wants to forget. It’s where a brutal ethnic conflict killed nearly 2,000 people over 10 years.

On Lasatuka, known as the “most wretched place on Earth,” siblings, relatives and school friends now live in the same home. Among them is Fatu, whom we meet as he awaits the start of his fiftieth birthday festivities. Fatu, a cattle farmer, has a wife and children, including a daughter who just turned one.

CNN’s crew visits Lingsa, the capital of the Solomon Islands, where violence broke out in 2010. WARNING: Graphic images

Fatu looks like a man from another time. He says he loves his wife but also claims that she forced him to marry her, or face his death. On this scene, his memory of the violence is vivid.

It was in 2007, when the current government was elected, that the threat of violence escalated.

Soon, villagers received calls to deliver food, which they followed up with attacks on community members whom they accused of stealing land. Families were gunned down and villages were razed.

The government scrambled to contain the violence, with fighter jets patrolling the skies, and soldiers on the ground — but the government, which had promised there would be no fighting, allowed impunity for perpetrators.

“The violence against the indigenous communities was followed by a government crackdown. We believe if this government and the current prime minister had done the right thing, things would be different today,” says Josh Morris, from the Martinique-based World Mission Agency, which supports human rights and reconciliation projects in the Solomon Islands.

Violence continues in the Solomon Islands despite the government taking very little significant action against those responsible.

The government’s refusal to make the perpetrators of violence accountable is one of the primary issues highlighted by civil society.

Another is law enforcement’s failure to combat the theft of rainwater, land and water supplies and cannibalism by students at the nation’s highest school.

Conflict over land is a common feature in the Solomon Islands, with people settling disputes over resources in disputed territories by pushing or killing one another.

CNN’s crew visits Lingsa, the capital of the Solomon Islands, where violence broke out in 2010. WARNING: Graphic images

In this case, a government program offering compensation to people who were affected has not seemed to deter political violence.

“You can not settle a political grievance by fighting each other,” says one local, David Jones.

Fatu claims he has been attacked for refusing to attend the celebrations in honor of his father.

“What I am asking is that I have been told to forgive and forget, but the government have yet to tell me that I have been forgiven,” he says.

Even after the violence has subsided, the trauma of what happened still troubles Fatu.

“I still wake up and ask, where am I? How did I come back here?” he says.

Backing domestic and foreign aid agencies

Without new emergency funds, Solomon Islands is running out of cash.

Last year, the World Bank warned of the possible impact of a funding shortfall if Solomons does not raise $1.5 billion to meet its needs.

On the periphery of Lingsa, there are new proposed water and electricity projects that have been funded by external aid.

Even before the conflict, there was already significant local corruption. But it was exacerbated in the aftermath of the violence when the allocation of projects was largely done by the Prime Minister himself.

As a result, the future of such local projects now lies in question. According to local NGO chief Thom Impey, the government will either have to step in to ensure the projects happen, or local community members may be forced to shoulder the financial burden.

Law enforcement has made just one arrest on suspicion of involvement in violence. According to this local activist, if there is no conviction, it will encourage more violence.

Matter of trust

The ability of local people to embrace traditional values remains in question.

Fatu, who was involved in political violence last year, has the paradoxical effect of suggesting he has no interest in discussing what happened, or in forgiveness.

“I believe that the government and the locals are more interested in how to exploit our people instead of how to serve them,” he says.

An Ethiopian immigrant who runs a clothing shop in town, his position is similar to that of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire.

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