Sunday, January 8, 2012

Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands, a former British protectorate in the Pacific, is striving to recover from a civil conflict that brought it to the brink of collapse.

More than 90% of the islanders are ethnic Melanesians, but there has been intense and bitter rivalry between the Isatabus on Guadalcanal, the largest island, and migrant Malaitans from the neighbouring island.

Fighting broke out in 1998 when the Isatabu Freedom Movement began to force Malaitans out, accusing them of taking land and jobs. Around 20,000 people abandoned their homes, with many subsequently leaving Guadalcanal.

A rival militia group, the Malaitan Eagle Force, staged a coup in June 2000 and forced the then prime minister to resign, saying he had failed to deal with the crisis, which had left up to 100 dead.

An Australian-brokered peace deal was signed in October 2000. But lawlessness continued and an Australian-led peacekeeping force arrived in July 2003.

The force arrested many rebel commanders, collected thousands of illegally-held weapons and oversaw a slow return to order.

The Australian intervention also provided for the appointment of foreign nationals to government posts and included financial assistance; Canberra says it aims to make the country self-sustaining.

But prosperity is elusive. Civil war left the country almost bankrupt, and post-election riots in April 2006 sent some of the advances made since 2003 up in smoke.

According to the World Bank, the Solomon Islands, one of the Pacific region's poorest countries, has been affected by successive global food, fuel and financial crises and in 2009, with the fall in log exports and a major drop in international commodity prices, growth fell to just 1 percent.

Economic hopes have been pinned on the resumption of palm oil production and gold mining.

The Solomon Islands chain consists of several large volcanic islands to the south-east of Papua New Guinea, as well as outlying islands and atolls. The terrain is mountainous and heavily forested.

During World War II the island of Guadalcanal saw some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific theatre as the US battled to wrest control of the territory from Japanese occupiers.

    * Full name: Solomon Islands
    * Population: 535,700 (UN, 2010)
    * Capital: Honiara
    * Area: 27,556 sq km (10,639 sq miles)
    * Major language: English (official), Melanesian dialects
    * Major religion: Christianity
    * Life expectancy: 67 years (men), 70 years (women) (UN)
    * Monetary unit: 1 Solomon Islands dollar = 100 cents
    * Main exports: Timber, fish, palm oil and kernels, copra
    * GNI per capita: US $1,030 (World Bank, 2010)
    * Internet domain: .sb
    * International dialling code: +677

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general

Prime minister: Gordon Darcy Lilo
Parliament elected Gordon Darcy Lilo prime minister on 16 November, only days after his predecessor, Danny Philip, sacked him from the post of finance minister.

Mr Philip subsequently resigned when several MPs deserted his government in response to Mr Lilo's dismissal, leaving it without a majority in the 50-seat parliament. Mr Lilo won the backing of 29 MPs.

Several hundred protesters gathered to protest against Mr Lilo's election, hurling rocks at police and vehicles before being dispersed by riot police.

Born in 1965, Mr Lilo was first elected to parliament in 2001 and was a government minister from 2007. His constituency lies in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands.

His predecessor, Danny Philip, was elected prime minister after weeks of horse trading that followed a general election on 4 August 2010.

The 2010 vote was generally peaceful, with no repeat of the post-election riots of 2006.

Politics in the Solomon Islands is fluid, with no deep-rooted party-political system.

From : BBC News