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RABAUL, Papua New Guinea (January 14, 1999 - PACNEWS)---The Australian government will cover the cost of Bougainville's first constituent assembly meeting today, according to The National newspaper.

It quotes rebel spokesman Andrew Miriki as saying the exact amount of money that the Australian government has committed is not known but the Bougainville leaders are pleased, as locating funding to cover the costs of the first meeting was a problem.

The meeting will be held in Arawa today, the first such gathering since the Bougainville crisis began in 1989.

Miriki said more than 50 representatives from different factions on Bougainville are expected to attend the session.

The representatives will consist of the four MPs, rebels, church and women's group members, resistance forces and Bougainville Transitional Government members. Delegates from rebel supreme commander Francis Ona also are expected to attend the meeting.

According to Miriki, rebel deputy political leader Joseph Kabui and former Bougainville premier Gerard Sinato are expected to lead the constituent assembly until a proper Bougainville Reconciliation Government is formed after elections in June.

Resolution of issues concerning representation of the different factions is expected to be the first item on the agenda.

The meeting is planned for just one day, but if there are pressing issues that arise during the assembly's first sitting, it may be extended, according to Kabui.


By Philip Kepson

ARAWA, Bougainville (January 15, 1999 - The National)---The Bougainville Constituent Assembly's first meeting did not take place as planned yesterday due to the non-arrival of some Bougainville leaders.

Organizers have said, however, that the meeting will start at 8:00 a.m. today at Arawa's Marimari church building.

Provincial Peace Coordinator Chris Siriosi said the meeting had to be deferred to today because of the late and in some cases non-arrival of leaders who were expected to play an active role at the newly-formed constituent assembly's first meeting.

Mr. Siriosi named the leaders as Bougainville Affairs Minister Sam Akoitai, former Premier Gerard Sinato, and North Bougainville MP Michael Ogio.

Other leaders absent yesterday included Bougainville MP John Momis, South Bougainville MP Michael Laimo, resistance force members and the former Bougainville Transitional Government (BTG) members from Buka.

The Buka Council of Elders with support from three former BTG members want Bougainville to come under the provincial reforms law with Mr. Momis becoming governor.

The resistance force members resolved earlier this week not to attend the meeting until the Bougainville leaders addressed the issue of disarmament before the formation of the Bougainville Reconciliation Government.

The two groups made their positions known to other parties to the peace process, including Mr. Akoitai, through two different petitions drawn up only days before the convening of the constituent assembly meeting.

Mr. Siriosi said that almost 95 percent of the members of the constituent assembly arrived here from Tuesday onwards. They were only waiting for Mr. Akoitai and Mr. Sinato to arrive before proceeding with the meeting.

He said that both leaders, who were in Buka yesterday, could not make it to Arawa in the afternoon as expected, adding that bad weather was understood to be the reason for their delayed arrival.

But Mr. Siriosi said that despite the problems, the majority of the leaders present are willing to proceed today.

Rebel technical officer Martin Miriori said the various delegations were urged to finalize the appointment of their representatives in the assembly last night.

He said that the first item on today's agenda was the election of two co-chairmen of the assembly to become Mr. Kabui's and Mr. Sinato's number two executives.

Messrs. Kabui and Sinato will not face any election as they had already been appointed when the BRG constitution was adopted three weeks ago.

Mr. Miriori said the composition of the assembly includes all four members of the National Parliament, all former BTG members, 10 representatives each from the rebels and the resistance group, six each from women and church groups, all Bougainville Interim Government (BIG) members, and three from the Francis Ona faction.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kabui has described current challenges against the formation of the assembly as "tests in the struggle for a lasting political settlement."

Speaking at an informal meeting of some 200 people at the Marimari church, Mr. Kabui said the current peace process and the formation of the assembly were the initiative of the people, and the people alone had the power to break or mend the process.

"The higher you go up the ladder towards what you are struggling for, the more problems you will have to face," he told his listeners.

"While others are turning against us, we have Francis Ona's delegation here with us. Such developments are encouraging."

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

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