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RIPEL’s hired men stopped at Yandina

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FORMER workers of the now defunct Russells Islands Plantation Estate Limited (RIPEL) forced a group employed by the company not to land at Yandina on December 16.

The group was travelling there on board MV Fair Glory, which was on a schedule trip to the Western Province.

It was sent by RIPEL general manager, John Whiteside, to protect the company’s coconut plantations, which was allegedly harvested by workers and sold to other copra exporters.

The former workers, mostly of Malaitan origin, went out in full force with knives, axes and other objects to stop the ship from berthing at the wharf.

Police have to travel by boat to the ship and five men in the group went out with them ashore to meet with leaders of the former RIPEL workers.

Police inspector at Yandina, Fakatonu confirmed to the Solomon Star yesterday after the meeting, the workers refused to let the group stay at Yandina because of its connection to Mr Whiteside.

“The workers did not like to deal with any group involved with the former investor or John Whiteside.

“The workers look to the Government to solve the issue and not any other group of people besides,” Inspector Fakatonu said.

He said currently the group was staying on Mariloan island in West Russells – much to the concern of the former RIPEL workers.

“The situation is currently tense here because these former workers did not want to see the group at Yandina,” he said.

The group is made up of some known Malaitan characters.

Mr Whiteside yesterday told the Solomon Star the group was hired to protect the company’s properties which people used them for their own gains.

He said no one has anything to stop the company doing its business in Russells because they have the right over the properties.

RIPEL’s operations in the Russells came to an abrupt halt after workers went on strike in 2003.

The event led to a long-drawn industrial dispute between the Solomon Islands National Union of Workers and RIPEL.

The company has since unable to resume operations.

Chairman of RIPEL, Australian Patrick Wong had recently demanded the Government to pay his company damages worth millions of dollars.

The demand took him on a collision course with the Lilo government, which eventually led to the government banning him from entering the country.

By Eddie Osifelo