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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (December 30, 1997 - PACNEWS)---Solomon Islands Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu had described as "grossly misleading" media reports quoting him as saying that "he did not favor independence for Bougainville."

He is alleged to have made the comment during last week's visit to Bougainville with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Bill Skate as part of peace efforts for the embattled PNG island.

"During my entire three-day visit to Bougainville, never did I raise the issue of independence for the island, " Ulufa'alu said in a statement. "Instead, I called for reconciliation between the warring parties to ensure that peace returns to Bougainville."

The Solomons Prime Minister was quoted as saying during a speech in Bougainville that he hoped PNG and his country would one day merge to form one nation, and that unity in the Melanesian region would be more productive than the creation of more small nations.

The Bougainville Freedom Movement in Australia described the remarks as "outrageous."

Spokesperson in Sydney Vikki John called the statement a political stunt to entrap or deny the people of Bougainville their rights for self-determination.

John also said the announcement by PNG Prime Minister Skate to provide $3.9 million to the Solomon Islands in financial aid was an encouragement for Ulufa'alu to make "such an outrageous statement."

But Ulufa'alu called the Bougainville Freedom Movement's comments insensitive to the cordial bilateral relationship and Melanesian brotherhood that exists between the countries and the people of PNG and the Solomon Islands.

Such misleading and misinterpreted statements, said Ulufa'alu, are not going to help the peace process currently gaining momentum among the leaders and people of Bougainville.

The Solomon Islands Prime Minister reiterated that the combined Christmas visit was a success and his participation was sanctioned by his cabinet. Whatever statements were made during the trip, he stressed, had the full backing of the Solomon Islands government.

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