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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 8, 1998 - The National/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Papua New Guinea's Mining Minister Philemon Embel yesterday criticized Deputy Opposition Leader Peter Peipul and others for publicly conducting discussions on Bougainville's copper mine when the peace process was still in the early stages, the National reports.

Mr. Embel said politicians and others with no land rights qualifications in respect of the abandoned Bougainville copper mine must refrain from commenting on the future status of the mine.

''Instead, all concerned citizens including politicians from both sides of the political spectrum must use their best endeavors to give peace on Bougainville a chance to mature,'' he said in a statement.

The minister was responding to Mr. Peipuls' call on Monday for the mine, which is central to the 10-year conflict that has just ended, to be owned 100 per cent by the people of Bougainville.

Mr. Peipul had suggested that the government should allow CRA's remaining lease period (four years) to lapse so that the mining lease could be transferred to the people.

''I abhor the blatant insensitivity displayed by the Opposition's deputy leader in seeking to float the issue of the abandoned copper mine for discussion,'' Mr. Embel said.

''It is not proper that so soon after the peace process has commenced with the concluding of peace talks culminating in the official peace agreement last Thursday, that the sensitive issue of the future status of the mine should be discussed.

"Thousands of Bougainvilleans have suffered losses and dislocations and hundreds have died in the Bougainville conflict all because of issues related to that copper mine.

''And for Mr. Peipul and whomsoever else to ignore the suffering, the losses of lives and properties as well as not giving peace a chance is extremely deplorable,'' Mr. Embel said.

He said Prime Minister Bill Skate, his predecessors, the governments of New Zealand and Australia, and other leaders including women's leaders have put a lot of efforts towards arriving at last Thursday's peace agreement, and urged Mr. Peipul not to speculate on an issue that could only be determined by the Panguna landowners.

Title -- 1343 BOUGAINVILLE: Panguna mine claims stir row Date -- 8 May 1998 Byline -- Daniel Korimbao Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- The National (PNG), 8/5/98 Copyright -- The National Status – Unabridged

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