HANDS OFF BOUGAINVILLE, PNG OPPOSITION TOLD

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 9, 1998 - The National)---Bougainville Affairs Minister Sam Akoitai yesterday called on the Opposition to stop interfering with the Bougainville peace process.

He said the Opposition, led by Wewak MP Bernard Narokobi, had disqualified themselves from the peace process last week when they did not vote on the bill to set up the Bougainville Reconciliation Government.

"The Opposition walked out on the people of Bougainville when they walked out on the BRG legislation. Now they want to make trouble through the media," Mr. Akoitai said.

The Central Bougainville MP was commenting on statements by Opposition members in recent days, including an attack by Markham MP Andrew Baing on Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

"Who is Andrew Baing to publicly insult Mr. Downer when Australia, along with New Zealand, Vanuatu and Fiji, have provided so much support for the peace process on Bougainville," Mr. Akoitai said.

"Mr. Downer was expressing an opinion that is widely held throughout the region. Mr. Downer said Australia was disappointed by the Opposition's walkout, but then who wasn't disappointed by the Opposition's action."

Mr. Akoitai said Mr. Baing should be thankful that Australia will continue to support the peace process through the continued deployment of peace monitors and other forms of assistance.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Foreign Minister Don McKinnon will visit PNG on Sunday.

Announcing Mr. McKinnon's visit to Papua New Guinea and Bougainville from December 13-16, New Zealand High Commissioner Nigel Moore said Mr. McKinnon's visit would take place "at a crucial point in the Bougainville peace process."

"The Minister will be assuring all parties to the conflict of New Zealand's continuing interest and involvement in helping find a solution to the problems on the island," Mr. Moore said.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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