PNG'S SKATE RULES OUT INDEPENDENCE FOR BOUGAINVILLE

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 31, 1997)---The new Papua New Guinea government has prepared an agenda for upcoming talks with rebel Bougainville leaders, but Prime Minister Bill Skate says the option of independence for the embattled, copper-rich island will not be considered.

Skate says independence for Bougainville is not negotiable, with the main subjects for discussion during the meeting to be peace for the island and restoration of essential services under Papua New Guinea.

Meantime, the PNG Cabinet has given preliminary endorsement to the Burnham Declaration, which Bougainville leaders agreed upon during July meetings in New Zealand. One of the clauses in the agreement, however, calls for the leaders to ensure that the people of Bougainville "freely and democratically exercise their right to determine their political future." This clause has the strong potential of becoming a point of conflict between Bougainville and PNG government negotiators.

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