Solomons army sent to protect logging
Greenpeace has denounced the decision of the Solomon Islands government to send a unit of its Defence Force to protect the operations of a Malaysian timber company on the Russell Islands.
The environmental organisation has called for the troops' withdrawal and demanded that the government listen to the wishes of the traditional landowners for a halt to the planned logging of Pavuvu Island by the company, Marvin Brothers.
"It's a national disgrace that the government supports the Malaysian company interests ahead of the customary landowners of the Russell Islands", said Greenpeace Solomons campaigner Lawrence Makili.
"The indigenous Russell Islanders are the customary owners of Pavuvu Island, not the government. The government should back off, pull the logging machinery and army out, and let the people decide for themselves the future of their lands."
The government has given permission to Marvin Brothers to clear-fell the forests of Pavuvu, develop an agriculture project and then return it to the Russell Island landowners.
"It's clear that the landowners will just get the crumbs after the company and the government have taken the big slices of the valuable timber pie", Makili said. "Greenpeace is supporting the customary rights of the indigenous Russell Islanders to their forests. Greenpeace is opposed to violent means to resolve any conflict and is promoting a peaceful solution. We call on the Solomon Islands government to withdraw the Defence Force field unit sent to the Russell Islands to protect the recently arrived company equipment."
In the 19th century, Pavuvu was taken from the customary landowners by the British and leased to Levers. The company still holds a current lease but the government claims it as "alienated land" owned by the government. The government has a policy of returning all alienated lands to their customary owners.
"The land should be returned immediately to the indigenous Russell Islanders for them to develop responsibly, such as through planned 'ecotimber' and 'ecotourism'. Logging is both not what the traditional landowners themselves want, and will leave them with a destroyed forest, polluted water and dead reefs", Makili said.
Pavuvu is the largest of the 20 inhabited islands of the Russells group, and has a population of about 2000. An Australian-funded forest assessment project in 1992 found that Pavuvu contained 130,455 cubic metres of harvestable wood, worth more than SI$60 million.