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CANBERRA, Australia (June 5, 1998 - PACNEWS/Ioane)---An Australian surgeon has returned to Bougainville amid joy and sadness after an absence of 10 years.

Commander Hamish Foster, an Australian Navy reservist medical officer, was given a rousing welcome by nurses and other health professionals on his first day back at what remains of the Arawa General Hospital.

Foster worked at the hospital until just before the outbreak of the nine-year secessionist war, which claimed the lives of thousands of people and resulted in the destruction of hospitals, aid posts, schools and government offices. He has now taken leave from his job as a surgeon in Newcastle, New South Wales, to volunteer for service with the Peace Monitoring Group. On his first day, he conducted five operations and there are many more patients hoping to see him before his posting ends.

Foster described the destruction of the Arawa General Hospital as a "sad waste" which led to the loss of many lives. He said it had been a 250-bed hospital - "often with up to 300 beds crammed in to meet the demand for surgical, maternity and other services" - and boasted some of the best medical facilities in the region.

Foster said the real cure for Bougainville now was for the people of the island to be given the opportunity to solve their problems themselves, with help from the Peace Monitoring Group.

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