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Solomons Church faces task of rebuilding

Churches have a critical role to play as the people of the Solomon Islands begin to rebuild their country after years of ethnic conflict.

A truth and reconciliation commission, aid to displaced people, and mediation between parties to the conflict are some of the tasks churches are taking on, according to moderator of the United Church of the Solomon Islands Rev Philemon Riti.

Philemon says the military forces of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) have restored law and order, normalised the political system, taken guns away from untrained young men, recovered stolen property and apprehended law breakers.

“The economy shows signs of improvement. During the fighting trade networks were closed down and there was no export of copra. The commodity Export Cooperative had no money to buy copra but now it has reopened.

“The health system and education are also picking up again. People who left Honiara where the fighting was have begun to return to work. In some cases, though, they have lost their jobs or other people have moved into their position.

“It will take five to 10 years before RAMSI can normalise the situation.

The churches also suffered during the fighting, Philemon says, because they are almost entirely dependent on giving for their income and people could no longer give as they lost their jobs and the economy collapsed.

The Uniting Church is influential in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. It is also part of the ecumenical council called the Solomon Islands Christian Association (SICA).

SICA represents more than 90 percent of the country’s population and includes the Church of Melanesia, which is Anglican, the Solomon Islands Catholic Church and the South Seas Evangelical Church, which is Seventh Day Adventist.

“SICA set up a peace office in Honiara during the conflict. It administered humanitarian programmes for displaced people, provided trauma counselling, and gave pastoral care and moral support to those affected.

“Through SICA overseas churches helped their partner churches in the Solomon Islands. New Zealand, Australia, and England gave money, clothing and cooking utensils and SICA divided it through their Federation of Women Fellowships.”

Now SICA has set up a truth and reconciliation commission so people can tell their stories and reconciliation can take place. Until the truth has surfaced and been acknowledged, reconciliation can not take place, Philemon says.