On Monday, June 5, an ethnic militia called the Malaita Eagle Force kidnapped the prime minister of the Solomon Islands and demanded his resignation. Throughout the week the MEF skirmished with another ethnic militia, the Isatabu Freedom Movement. On June 8 the MEF released the prime minister on the promise that he would face a confidence vote in parliament next week. Why are the militias fighting? Who is in charge of the Solomon Islands?
The ethnic hostilities date back to World War II, when American troops fighting the Japanese on Guadalcanal, the main island in the Solomons, brought over thousands of neighboring Malatian islanders. The Malatians stayed on Guadalcanal and came to dominate the indigenous population economically and politically. A year and a half ago Guadalcanal natives formed the IFM to drive Malaitan settlers off the island, and the MEF was established in response. In 18 months of fighting, 20,000 people have been forced to move and about 50 have been killed.
For now, the elected government remains in power, but the capital city is occupied by the MEF. The militias agreed jointly today to a temporary cease-fire so commonwealth foreign ministers could try to negotiate a solution over the weekend, but there are no indications that a deal is at hand. Australia has sent combat troops to the Solomons to keep the peace if talks break down.