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By Isaac Nicholas

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 1, 1999 -- The National)---Deputy Opposition Leader Chris Haiveta says he has no regrets about the signing of the Sandline International contract at the height of the Bougainville crisis in 1996-1997.

Mr. Haiveta said yesterday that the main point in hiring Sandline was to get the separatist rebels to a negotiating table because, at the time, no one was willing to talk and everybody wanted to fight.

He said the Government at that time, under the circumstances and given the situation on the ground, felt that it was the right decision to sign the contract with Sandline.

"It was the right catalyst to get the peace process going." he said.

Mr. Haiveta said that it was carried out on the recommendation of the military after the failure of Operation High Speed 1 and 2, the killing of Premier Theodore Miriung and the Kangu Beach massacre.

He said the decision was made by the Cabinet and "we made the decision according to advice from the Solicitor General, Attorney General and (it was) done according to (the) Public (Finance) Management Act."

Mr. Haiveta said the contract got "unstuck by PNGDF Commander Jerry Singirok."

"In a way, I have no regrets for Sandline," he said.

Mr. Haiveta was commenting on the Sandline appeal case that was thrown out by the Queensland Supreme court on Tuesday morning.

He said the Opposition advice to the Government was to settle Sandline. "It is a debt we owe, but make an agreement with Sandline so that interest does not escalate."

Mr. Haiveta said that an agreement can be reached between Sandline and the State to settle the matter, that could be a long-term agreement where money is paid over a period of time.

He suggested that an account be open just for the purpose of settling the Sandline bill.

Commenting on the armaments held in Trindal, Australia, Mr. Haiveta said it was up to the Government to decide their future.

"The armaments belong to the Independent State of Papua New Guinea," Mr. Haiveta said. "They don't belong to the Government, but the decision on the future of the armaments rests with the Government whether they decide to sell it or not," he said.

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