Solomons: Keke – Rebel or Rascal?
July 2003 – 21’00”
REPORTER: David O’Shea
We leave Honiara in the dead of night. Harold Keke, the notorious rebel leader, has invited Dateline to visit. This is the first leg of a journey to the Weathercoast, on the south of Guadalcanal island.
After five hours, we round the point into the exposed waters of the Weathercoast.
Harold Keke rules this part of Guadalcanal. No-one enters or leaves without his permission. Without an invitation I would never have dared to make this trip.
When we're joined by Keke's men, it's clear there's not much further to go.
Keke’s base is a full day's walk into the mountains, but he has arranged to meet us at Biti village on the coast. Although I am nervous, the atmosphere is relaxed. It's a normal Solomon Islands Sunday morning.
HAROLD KEKE, REBEL LEADER: Lead us not into temptation for Thy is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever amen. Praise the Lord. Praise Jesus.
This is Harold Keke. His grandfather was the founder of the South Seas Evangelical Church in Bundaberg, Queensland.
Keke himself spent years in Papua New Guinea where he apparently led the life of a drug-pushing, beer-swilling rascal. But here on the Weathercoast, he's turned over a new leaf and embraced his grandfather's evangelism.
HAROLD KEKE (Translation): The Israelites had faith in Almighty God who led them into Jordan so they could reach their goal, to enter the Holy Land. They entered the Holy Land only through faith in God.
Keke sees himself as a prophet, leading his people, the Guadalcanal Liberation Front, or GLF, to their promised land.
HAROLD KEKE (Translation): this morning I want to remind you boys in the GLF that we must have faith in God. Only then will we reach our goal, the Holy Land.
Interview should start now, we can’t waste time we are running late.
Mighty God, father, son and spirit, I exhalt your name on high. I’m glad that you answered my prayer and allowed the reporter to come and hear my story, for the truth to be made known to the world and to the nation. To know about the reality and the root cause of the ethnic tension on this island.
The root cause of the ethnic tension here is land. Keke and his men are driven by deep resentment at the many islanders from neighbouring Malaita who have squatted on the main island of Guadalcanal.
HAROLD KEKE (Translation): The Malaitans slaughtered us…the original inhabitants of this island. They… they killed the innocent on the island, women children and men, like they were just killing animals. They cut their throats with knives, cut open their stomachs with knives.
Keke led the first group of militants from Guadalcanal who fought to expel Malaitan squatters five years ago. They retaliated and the Solomons descended into chaos.
Keke has told Dateline he had political support to launch that first attack, from the then Premier of Guadalcanal, Ezekuil Alebua.
HAROLD KEKE (Translation): Alebua started the war, he initiated the war.
Alebua bought all the provisions for the militants, the food, the bullets he paid for, the guns, 22’s…
Ezekuil Alebua also happens to be Harold Keke's uncle. I met him at his home in Honiara before I set out for the Weathercoast.
EZEKUIL ALEBUA, FORMER PREMIER OF GUADALCANAL: Harold actually for most of his young days grew up in my house here, him and his brothers. I know him well, he's always like that. He's always aggressive, looking for excitement all the time. Picking on fights, but he has very little education. Like I said, he was probably watching too many Rambo movies.
Alebua now dismisses his nephew as little more than a violent thug.
EZEKUIL ALEBUA: He has no political agenda. I think, and I believe that he's doing what he's doing just for his survival. That's all.
In late 2000, a peace deal was struck in Townsville between the Malaitan Eagle Force and militia from Guadalcanal.
Keke believed his people's aspirations had been betrayed and refused to sign. Three years later he still dreams of independence for his island.
HAROLD KEKE (Translation): We’re standing for our rights, if we were… criminals or rapists or thieves we would not be justified in standing up for our rights because we’d be wrong. But as we are right we are justified in keeping our arms.
Keke and his men have been accused of everything from rape and arson to mass murder.
Honiara is now home to over 1,000 refugees who fled from Harold Keke on the Weathercoast.
REFUGEE MAN: The action of Keke is inhuman, he is not a normal man now, he's an abnormal man and we see him that he has no sense and he's mentally ill.
ANOTHER MAN (Translation): At 10 past 3 they attacked our village, Vasawala. Then they shot one boy, the bullet went through his hand. The bullet went right through his hand, then they shot another boy.
REFUGEE WOMAN (Translation): All these things were given to us by the Red Cross, including our clothes and bedding. We ran away empty handed, no clothing… the children were naked… All we have is what’s here in Honiara.
The stories of Keke's victims have been well aired by the media. But I've been told that an hour's drive outside Honiara, I'll hear something very different.
This is another group of refugees. They too have fled the violence on the Weathercoast, but it isn't Harold Keke they fear.
JESSIE (Translation): It was the police who did all the work here, it wasn’t Harold and his boys, it was the police. It was the police who did all the damage, who torched the houses, who forced the women and children to leave.
They forced all the women and children at gunpoint. They also burned the women with hot wires on their backs. During that time I witnessed it myself, with mu own eyes. They did all kinds of torture and harm.During that time I witnessed many abuses, house torchings…
When I was on the Weathercoast, I saw for myself the destruction they described, the results of a so-called joint operation between the police and former militiamen.
VILLAGER: The whole place was burnt out by the joint operation, no civilians are left through here, everyone ran away into the jungle, moved up to the highlands and they still have not returned.
WOMAN: The house burnt down and we have lost everything. We sleep this way, the mattresses and pillows faced this way. Everything is gone, there’s nothing left.
VILLAGER: It was more than 20 villages that they burnt down.
Everyone here tells the same story, that the real threat to law and order on the Weathercoast has been the Solomons police force and not Harold Keke.
WILLIAM MORRELL, POLICE COMMISSIONER: The police did have two bases here. One of them was flanked about two months ago and therefore the police withdrew from there, and as a result of that, Keke was able to push his influence into this area.
Solomons police commissioner William Morrell was recruited from the Greater Manchester police force six months ago. Although he regards Keke as a serious problem, he admits that his own men have also run amok.
WILLIAM MORRELL: Well I certainly accept some of those abuses may have taken place, absolutely, and the numbers of police officers over there and their level of rank, I mean they tend to be sort of constables, perhaps one or two sergeants, one or two special constables, who are special constables because they have been appointed and have received no training at all. So you've got villagers from different villages, different areas fighting each other essentially, with some police involvement and some government involvement.
As part of the Townsville peace agreement, many militia members were absorbed by the police force. These special constables are completely outside the commissioner's control.
WILLIAM MORRELL: There's a lot of politics involved in this, there are a lot of different factions that have been involved and so the whole issue has become very, very complicated.
When I arrived here at the end of January this year, I found out after a couple of months of being here, that there had been what's known as the joint operation which was launched about last October time. This was a combination of between the police and also civilians. And again, it makes the whole sort of situation a bit murkier as to who is actually doing what.
I've had various reports of human rights abuses from both sides. I haven't really been able to get to the bottom of those.
I've read in the newspaper that Harold and his men have killed up to 50 people. How many people have you killed?
Keke and his operations chief, Justin, don't know where to start. But they claim to have used violence only as a last resort.
JUSTIN, (Translation): We would like to have dialogue to put forward our demands, but they’ve ignored our demands many times. So we decided to go another way, we decided to go the way of the gun. We’d force them to agree to our demands, so those of us that stand against the government are accused of killing up to 50 people… Some of this isn’t true.
Keke does admit to killing 10 men last June. He says they were assassins sent by the Solomons Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza.
HAROLD KEKE (Translation): You’d better start right from the beginning.
JUSTIN (Translation): I’ll count again, because the ten people that we shot at Koio, the Malaitans… we killed them because Allan Kemakeza and the government sent them.
Keke is now holding a number of hostages from the Melanesian Brotherhood, an Anglican order well known in the islands for its peace making efforts. The men were taken hostage after one of them admitted he'd been sent by the Prime Minister.
JUSTIN, (Translation): He asked too many questions so we pointed a gun at him,then he confessed “Allan Kemakeza sent me to spy and when I go back he’ll give me money, 5000 dollars along with a 25 horsepower engine,” Yamaha, for going to market.
So we told him “ We are fighting against the government and you help the government. So you will not return.” He decided to run away and he escaped. We fired two warning shots but he did not surrender. That was his death sentence, on the spot.
WILLIAM MORRELL: Now he would perhaps say there was a reason for that shooting and he - the impression you get is he makes judgments himself and then carries out some sort of execution that he feels is then justified. Now I think for most people in normal society, that is not the way you behave.
The Melanesian Brothers taken hostage by Keke were appalled to learn that their colleague was a spy.
BROTHER ALFRED: Nathaniel Sado was Harold Keke’s best friend before, very close friend. They ate from one plate, spoon, pot… they shared together. But in the end because of evil, Nathaniel sold his friend, Harold Keke into the hands of the government.
There is now a small army committed, among other things, to bringing Harold Keke to justice.
ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP: There's no doubt that the Harold Keke problem in time needs to be solve and the best way for it to be solved is for him to surrender himself and to face justice in the normal way, rather than try to confront a deployment of armed peacekeepers and police. I mean it's going to be a pointless exercise for him.
HAROLD KEKE (Translation): I would like to send my message to Howard, I would like Howard to look carefully and establish who is fighting for right and who is wrong and who is lying to get Howard to believe their story so that he can get help, because he is helpless now because the economy has collapsed.
Keke says he's become the fall guy for the Solomons Prime Minister.
HAROLD KEKE (Translation): Australia gives him money for aid to help the government, but instead the leaders themselves steal the money, then they lie to get more money so they can catch Harold Keke and so on. And then they say that Harold Keke is a thief and so on, and then they ask for money for help. So they just use my name, Harold Keke, to make money.
Even the police commissioner admits there are bigger fish to fry than Harold Keke.
WILLIAM MORRELL: He is - to some extent he is just one element of the problems within the Solomon Islands and he is not the main element. The main element is the endemic corruption in the country and therefore government isn't functioning at all.
The intervention force needs to recognise that the ordinary people of Guadalcanal may not all support Harold Keke, but they clearly share his aspirations.
GUADALCANAL CITIZEN (Translation): People have lost confidence in the government, the government should be trusted to help us, but they failed us and people have lost trust in the government and the police. So they have given their support to the man in the bush, Harold Keke.
ARILEGO (Translation): Everyone wants a state government under which we own our country, our land, our rivers, our reefs, our fish and everything else. These are the resources of the Guadalcanal people, because Guadalcanal Island belongs to its people. It doesn’t belong to any others, like the Malaitans or the Western Province, or whatever provinces.
This is in fact Harold Keke's message for John Howard.
HAROLD KEKE (Translation): But for now I want to tell you Howard, we are fighting for our rights, because we don’t want the government to steal our land and resources because these are the root causes of the war. So please Howard, look at the law before you accept the request by Kemakeza to apprehend me and … my boys who are standing for their right to the land on which we stand and fight.