NEW BOUGAINVILLE PEACE TALKS OPEN THURSDAY IN CHRISTCHURCH

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CANBERRA, Australia (January 12, 1998 - PACNEWS)---Officials are preparing for the next round of Bougainville peace talks which open in Christchurch, New Zealand on Thursday.

The coming talks, seen as the most crucial so far, will involve leaders of all factions which have taken part in the almost ten-year civil war.

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Bill Skate will attend the talks beginning Sunday, January 18, until their scheduled ending on January 23. Skate has said the Bougainville issues are so important that they should bring all PNG leaders together, cutting across political rivalries and differences.

Skate has invited PNG's founding Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, opposition leader, Bernard Narakobi, veteran politician Sir John Kaputin and four Bougainville members of the national parliament to accompany him to Christchurch.

PNG will be represented throughout the talks by Foreign Minister Roy Yaki and Senior Minister of State Sir Rabbie Namaliu, while the secessionists will be represented by Sam Kauona and Joseph Kabui.

It is not yet known whether the long-time leader of the secessionist movement, Francis Ona, will travel to Christchurch. He is receiving encouragement from his colleagues to attend but to date he has kept away from the peace process.

An important issue on the leaders' agenda is the future of the four-nation Truce Monitoring Group (TMG) on Bougainville. The TMG's mandate runs out at the end of January, but Bougainville leaders and many people on Bougainville say they want the monitors to remain for up to 12 months more.

Australia and New Zealand, which provide most of the monitors as well as support facilities, have indicated a willingness to consider extending the role of the TMG if requested.

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