29 Oct 2002

Reports that Solomons rebel leader is using children and women as human shields

6:10 pm on 29 October 2002

An unofficial report from Solomon Islands police says militant leader, Harold Keke, is using villagers as human shields in his hideout.

The Guadalcanal provincial police report says that includes women and children who had been forced at gunpoint to leave their villages by Keke.

Police have sent a 40 strong team to the weather coast in an attempt to capture the rebel leader who's claimed responsibility for several murders, including that of a cabinet minister.

Meanwhile, some villagers were taken to Honiara by the patrol boat Lata so as to prevent Keke getting his hands on them.

A reliable source from the ministry of police and national security says one of Keke's men was shot dead at the end of last week as he attempted to escape.

Seven people, including six followers of Keke, have already died in a shootout.

The source says the operation to capture the militant leader is proceeding very carefully because of the civilian presence at his base.

The source says at this stage, the operation, whose members have completely surrounded Keke and his men, will try to starve them by blocking their food supply routes.

He says reports from the operations base says he's running out of food.

The source says the operation is determined not to allow Keke to escape at sea and has the Lata to patrol the weather coast waters.

Deputy Police Commissioner Wilfred Akao says police headquarters will not make any comment on any aspect of the campaign to arrest Keke until it has been completed.