Pacific evacuees reach mainland

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2006, 12:00am

300 refugees from Solomons chaos fly into Guangzhou

Hundreds of ethnic-Chinese Solomon Islanders, with 21 Hong Kong ID card holders and their family members among them, arrived in Guangzhou after midnight completing Beijing's evacuation of the strife-torn Pacific nation.

The last group had flown on a charter flight to Papua New Guinea yesterday, the fourth since Saturday, took 63 ethnic-Chinese islanders and two mainland diplomats from Honiara to Port Moresby.

These evacuees and about 250 others who had earlier been airlifted to Port Moresby then boarded a chartered China Southern Airlines plane for the six-hour flight to Guangzhou.

'This should probably be the last batch,' a diplomat from the Chinese embassy in Port Moresby said.

'Those who opted to stay behind [in the Solomons] but later change their minds will have to find their own way. At this stage, commercial flights are still available.'

In Hong Kong, Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said the Hong Kong identity card holders and 19 of their dependants were on the flight to Guangzhou.

Fifteen evacuees arrived in Guangzhou and Shanghai on Sunday, nearly a week after riots broke out in the nation's capital after a disputed election. Opponents of the victor, Snyder Rini, razed Honiara's Chinatown after claiming Chinese businessmen had paid bribes to ensure his victory.

The director of Guangdong's Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, Lu Weixiong, said his office would help the returnees replace lost identity documents and arrange schooling for their children.

'This is just a temporary arrangement. After the local political situation stabilises, these overseas Chinese will be able to return to the Solomons any time they like,' Mr Lu told Xinhua.

Hongkonger Sam Chan Ip-sang, 48, chairman of the Solomon Islands Chinese Association, said from the Solomons that the Chinese embassy had helped at least 317 ethnic-Chinese leave for Papua New Guinea.

Mr Chan, who has been in the Solomons since 1989 and sells clothes, cooking utensils and daily necessities, said he and the other Chinese who had opted to stay had done so because the political situation had improved and they wanted to be able to make an early start on rebuilding the destroyed Chinatown area and their businesses.

'If the situation does not worsen, we will stay. After all, we have been here for such a long time and do not want to go,' he said. 'We want to reconstruct Chinatown so that those evacuated can return.'

In Taipei, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said it was planning to evacuate dependants of Taiwanese embassy personnel, and 10 farm experts sent to help the Solomons, if the situation worsened.

Spokesman Michel Lu Ching-lung said embassy personnel would only leave at the last minute.

He said there were only nine Taiwanese living in the Solomon Islands. Six, all members of the same family, had already headed to Australia, while the other three had told the Taiwanese embassy they had no plans to leave.

Additional reporting by Lawrence Chung