17 Jun 2003

1000 refugees on Solomon Islands Weather Coast says police

4:09 pm on 17 June 2003

One thousand villagers on Solomon Islands Weather Coast are reported to have fled from their homes after rebel leader, Harold Keke, took over a police post and expanded the area under his control.

The police commissioner, Bill Morrell, says the villagers are now refugees looking for places to stay.

Mr Morrell says he's sending regular police and special constables to the area this afternoon but he would not give details on how many were going.

He also says they're taking a different tack with Keke after the failure of a police operation last year to flush him out.

"I have sent a message to him, it was essentially a conciliatory message stating that I want to try and scale back the violence and try and restore peace to the area....... I made no offers and I await a reply before I can enter into any further negotiations."

Mr Morrell says he is liaising with the Red Cross and the U.N. about the support they could offer to the villagers.

And, he confirmed that one person died at the Weather coast over the weekend during a gunfight with Keke's supporters.

The police commissioner says it's not yet confirmed if it was a special constable who was killed.