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By Isaac Nicholas

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 3, 1998 - The National/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Seventy Papua New Guinea Defense Force soldiers will pull out from Arawa to Loloho by Friday, Prime Minister Bill Skate announced yesterday, the National reports.

The pullout from Arawa will begin a gradual withdrawal of troops in line with the Bougainville cease-fire agreement.

"The rule of the gun is giving way to the rule of law," Mr. Skate said as he announced the decision made during a special Cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon.

The decision marks an important step forward in the process of restoring civil authority to Bougainville.

Mr. Skate described the decision as being "in many ways the most significant initiative on the ground in Bougainville since the truce was declared last October".

He said: "It is a very very important development of the peace process on the island."

The Prime Minister said that the Government will withdraw the troops from Arawa to Loloho later this week and end the eight-year-old call-out of the Defense Force.

Bougainville has a battalion of 344 soldiers, 144 mobile police and 90 general duty policemen and the withdrawal of troops would also see a gradual build-up of police manpower to maintain law and order on the island.

"The police will then become fully responsible for maintaining public order and law in Arawa," said Mr. Skate.

"The move coincides with the commissioning of the first group of 35 Bougainvillean auxiliary police who have been training there.

"It is, obviously, conditional on the Government receiving assurances from the other parties involved in the Bougainville peace process that they will also withdraw their fighting men from Arawa and won't try to take advantage of the situation."

Mr. Skate said the cease-fire agreement made it quite plain that any decision to change the status of Arawa would require recognition by all parties and the Government looked forward to receiving the required assurances without delay.

He said: "The response of the other parties will be a measure of cooperation we can expect as we proceed in stages to restore civilian peacetime policing, together with the courts and other aspects of the legal system, and to revoke the call-out of the Defense Force throughout Bougainville."

The Prime Minister said the Defense Force has been providing assistance to the police since the call-out was declared in May 1990.

Mr. Skate said the decision to end the call-out in Arawa was made following advice from Police Commissioner Peter Aigilo and the Defense Force commander Leo Nuia.

"It is intended to be the first stage in a process which will allow the police to resume full responsibility for the role they should play under the National Constitution, and enable the Defense Force to concentrate on their core functions," said Mr. Skate.

He said the eventual aim was to let the two disciplined services get on with the jobs they were set up and trained for.

"The police have done an excellent job in training the Bougainvillean auxiliaries," said Mr. Skate.

"The National court, the magisterial service and the village court secretariat are preparing to play their part by improving access to justice on the ground."

He said the Correctional Institution Service would provide support.

Referring specifically to the proposed withdrawal from Arawa, Mr. Skate said that, "together with the rest of the nation, the Government respects the professionalism with which the Defense Force implemented previous government policies.

"We are especially pleased with the way in which it is now doing the same in support of our policy of promoting peace."

He said the Defense Force played a key role in implementing and maintaining the Burnham Truce, and then in helping to turn the truce into the permanent and irrevocable cease-fire that came into effect on May 1.

He said the troops will be moving out with dignity, self-respect, and public respect for their dedicated service.

Bougainville Affairs Minister Sam Akoitai left for Bougainville yesterday to brief the various parties involved in the peace-process about the Government's decision.

Title -- 1422 BOUGAINVILLE: Troops to pull out, says Skate Date -- 3 June 1998 Byline -- Isaac Nicholas Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- The National (PNG), 3/6/98 Copyright -- The National Status – Unabridged

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