10 Jan 2003

Malaitan police officers withdrawn from search for rebel leader, Harold Keke

11:19 am on 10 January 2003

The Solomon Islands Police Executive has withdrawn all Malaitan officers from the group on the Weather Coast hunting the rebel leader Harold Keke.

It follows this week's decision by the Government to try and negotiate a resolution with Keke, who is held responsible for dozens of deaths, including that of Cabinet Minister Fr Augustine Geve.

A police team is to remain on the coast but is no longer actively pursuing Keke.

The Honiara based commander of the operation, Joseph Baetolongia, says the withdrawal of the Malaitan personnel is a compromise to ensure that the action is seen as impartial.

Our correspondent says there was a widespread feeling on Guadalcanal that the operation to try and capture Keke appeared to be a Malaitan campaign.

Two of the four members of the police team killed in the action were Malaitan.

Meanwhile Mr Baetolongia says the police team has to remain in the region to protect the local population from Keke.