BOUGAINVILLE TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT SUSPENSION LEGAL: SKATE

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By Neville Togarewa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 6, 1999 - The National)---Prime Minister Bill Skate is confident that the Cabinet decision suspending the Bougainville Transitional Government (BTG) is Constitutionally and legally correct.

Mr. Skate told reporters here yesterday that the National Executive Council had sought legal advice from some of Papua New Guinea's best Constitutional lawyers before making the decision on Jan. 1.

The lawyers include Attorney-General Michael Gene, Solicitor-General John Kawi and Legislative Counsel James Fraser.

Mr. Skate was responding to a statement by Bernard Narokobi that the Opposition may initiate proceedings in the Supreme Court challenging the Constitutionality of the decision to suspend BTG.

The Opposition leader indicated that he may ask the Supreme Court for a Constitutional interpretation on the legality of the decision.

The Prime Minister said the three Government lawyers had advised Cabinet to suspend BTG and for the Government and the leaders of the BTG, rebels and others to formally set up the Bougainville Reconciliation Government within the Constitution.

But if the Opposition wished to proceed with a Supreme Court challenge, Mr. Skate said, they had the Constitutional right to do so.

The Prime Minister announced on Saturday that Cabinet had decided in the early hours of Jan. 1 to suspend the BTG to ensure a smooth transition to the establishment of the BRG because the Opposition had failed to provide the numbers in the last Parliament session to enact a Constitutional amendment bill to make this possible.

If the amendment was passed, Bougainville would not come under the new Organic Law, meaning that the leaders would have proceeded to set up a reconciliation government on their own, if necessary, outside the framework of the National Constitution.

Mr. Narokobi has so far failed to concede or take responsibility for the Opposition reneging on Parliament's bipartisan approach to dealing with any business before it, relating to the Bougainville peace process.

He said yesterday the Opposition was studying "the legal implications of the suspension of the Bougainville provincial government."

Mr. Narokobi said he is talking to all Bougainville leaders, including the four MPs -- Bougainville Affairs Minister Sam Akoitai (Central), Michael Ogio (North), John Momis (Regional) and Michael Laimo (South) -- to get a broader perspective of the issue.

"I am carefully studying the legal implications of the suspension of the Bougainville provincial government under the reformed Organic Law (on Provincial and Local Level Governments)," he said.

"It is a question of whether the suspension was premature because members were not yet sworn in as members of the provincial assembly and whether this constitutes an act of bad faith and therefore is inherently invalid," Mr. Narokobi said.

He also appealed to all Bougainvilleans to continue with peace initiatives.

"I appeal to all Bougainvilleans, especially the four MPs, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army leadership, the former Bougainville Transitional Government under the leadership of Gerald Sinato and all councils of chiefs to continue to pursue their peace initiatives," Mr. Narokobi said.

He called on the Government "to move quickly to provide the necessary instruments that will establish a negotiated settlement for Bougainville."

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

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