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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 15, 1999 - Post-Courier)---The Government has reversed its position on the legality of elections planned for Bougainville.

Just days after Prime Minister Bill Skate and Justice Minister Simon Kaumi described the move as illegal, Mr. Skate and State Minister assisting on Bougainville affairs Sam Akoitai announced over the weekend that the self-organized elections would proceed.

But they said it was only an interim arrangement to bring together representatives who would then work towards holding "free and fair elections.''

The Opposition, through its deputy Chris Haiveta, maintained yesterday that such an election would be illegal and urged the Government to take heed of Mr. Kaumi's position.

Mr. Kaumi, he said, knew his position well because he had once been an Electoral Commissioner and understood election processes well.

However, Mr. Skate said leaders should not make hasty judgments or statements which had the potential to derail the peace process.

"A lasting political settlement in Bougainville means that Bougainvilleans must be at peace with one another and with the rest of the nation,'' he said.

"A major objective of the peace process at this delicate stage must, therefore, be to bring Bougainvilleans together so that they can work together to develop common positions when dealing with the National Government.

"The processes currently under way to choose Bougainville leaders are intended to meet criticisms that previous leaders lacked a clear mandate from the people. Government officials have, therefore, been directed to provide appropriate forms of assistance.

"Those elections will be held soon as all parties, and I emphasize all parties, including the National Government, have agreed to the composition and other details of the BRG.

"Meanwhile, the process being used to choose members of the Constituent Assembly cannot be described as official elections.

"They should also acknowledge that the BRG can be formed only after proper elections have been conducted transparently and according to law.

"The body which is now being formed will, if all goes well, play a major part in preparing for the BRG.

"It is not the BRG itself.''

Mr. Akoitai said Bougainvilleans were being creative in trying to solve the 10-year conflict.

He said the people were getting together to find a long-term solution to the crisis, including a future negotiated settlement.

"I really believe that what is happening on Bougainville is people are trying to be creative; whether it is an election or selected members, or appointed members, they are trying to organize themselves.

Mr. Akoitai said Bougainville remained a part of PNG.


PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 15, 1999 - Post-Courier)---The elections on Bougainville must go ahead despite criticisms about their legality.

"These elections will have to be conducted by the Papua New Guinea Government,'' said Bougainville Interim Government (BIG) spokesman and member of the Bougainville Constituent Assembly Andrew Miriki.

Speaking from Wisai, in South Bougainville, Mr. Miriki told the Post Courier that the Constituent Assembly was surprised at the early announcement of elections in which dates of the issue of writs and polling were announced.

Mr. Miriki said elections on Bougainville are necessary as agreed and it would also install a proper voice of the Bougainville people to further negotiate with the PNG Government on issues concerning the Bougainville crisis.

The Assembly was surprised at the timing of the announcement by the acting Provincial Administrator John Siau. "Personally, I believe it's wrong for Mr. Siau to announce the elections.

The BCA should be the body to do the announcement,'' he said.

"However, the elections must eventuate as we don't want to drag this whole thing.''

Mr. Miriki said the people of Bougainville could not continue to wait for things to happen.

"We would like to have the elections as soon as possible so that mandated leaders can hold dialogue with the PNG Government,'' he said.

"At the moment we are not properly elected or mandated so it's unwise to carry on like this.''

He said the Assembly was in the process of drawing up proper boundaries and other requirements when the election was announced.

"It is hard for me to accept government officers to make such announcements on sensitive issues that would have come from BCA,'' he said.

"The Lincoln Agreement clearly states that the consultation process must be continued and we should honor that.''

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

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