BOUGAINVILLE INDEPENDENCE NOT NEGOTIABLE: SKATE

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CANBERRA, Australia (March 31, 1998 - PACNEWS)---Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Bill Skate, says Bougainville is an integral part of PNG and has ruled out the complete withdrawal of PNG troops from the island.

He says he would be failing in his duty as the national leader if PNG left Bougainville and permitted the island to decide its own political fate.

Speaking on Australian television's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) Dateline program last weekend, Skate said PNG's Constitution stipulated very clearly that Bougainville is an integral part of PNG.

"They (the Bougainvilleans) know my position. Independence is non-negotiable with me or, for that matter, the people of PNG," Skate said/

To withdraw the PNG Defense Force completely from Bougainville, he added, would be seen as a defeat for the National Government.

He admitted that there was an agreement for PNG troops to withdraw, but said it was a matter of being a gradual process. "Everything must move simultaneously and gradually... not a complete withdrawal."

A spokesman for secessionist leader Francis Ona told SBS that the current peace negotiations are a "sell out".

Morris Koiri, a member of the Bougainville Interim Government, said the negotiations were a ploy by PNG and other regional and business interests to regain control of the island and its resources.

Bougainville Revolutionary Army Commander Sam Kauona admitted there were differences with Francis Ona, but said the Kauona and Ona camps were still united in their goal of Bougainville independence.

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