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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 26, 1999 - Post-Courier)---Bougainville leaders have praised Prime Minister Bill Skate for his efforts in finding a lasting solution to the 10-year Bougainville crisis.

The praises came as the leaders signed the latest peace accord -- the Matakana and Okataina Understanding -- named after two Maori places they used as venues for their peace talks.

Matakana is a small island of about 200 Maori people who hosted the Bougainvilleans during their first week in New Zealand, during which they learned about the ways in which the Maoris solved their problems.

Former New Zealand Governor General and a Maori, Sir Paul Reeves, who was with the leaders throughout their negotiations, guided them through their talks.

Bougainville leaders praised Mr. Skate for taking a personal interest in the peace process and helping them to move forward.

Joel Banam, Chairman of the Leitana Council of Chiefs, and the Co-Chairmen of the Bougainville Constituent Assembly, Joseph Kabui and Gerard Sinato, were among those who thanked him.

Said Mr. Banam: "I have heard a lot of negative reports about you but when I see you in person, when I see the commitment that you have, by the way you speak, by the way you are concerned about things that you have demonstrated, I must say that you are an outstanding prime minister.

"Your coming here has shown to us that you do have a concern for Bougainville, that your concern for Bougainville is genuine and I hope all of us Bougainville leaders can exploit that genuineness to develop Bougainville so that Bougainville can get back to where it was, so that it can be revitalized and its economy may also have an impact on the economy of Papua New Guinea.''

Mr. Kabui said he hoped that Prime Minister Skate could continue in office after July and that politics did not bring about his downfall.

He said in previous talks, leaders such as Sir Michael Somare, Bernard Narokobi and Sir Julius Chan had "made excuses,'' such as somebody in the family being sick.

"Here, the Prime Minister has really thrown away everything and said, "No, this is my commitment.’

"Prime Minister, we salute you.

"It is that sort of a human touch that you have. It is that sort of concern that you have that you have won the hearts of the people of Bougainville, to be honest with you.''

Mr. Kabui said: "I know PNG politics is a very fluid politics, but I just hope and pray that come July, you continue to remain there as prime minister with your government because, as I said at Matakana, I feel more comfortable working and helping to try and sort out the problem with the devil whom I know than the devil whom I do not know.

"We have worked together. We have come this far and I am so heartened to hear even Sir John Kaputin share with us that he has never worked with any other prime minister (so effectively).

"But we leave it in the hands of the people of PNG and also leave it in the hands of the Lord.''

Mr. Kabui said he hoped unnecessary politics did not mar the progress being made.

The special state negotiator, Sir John Kaputin also praised Mr. Skate, saying he hoped the Prime Minister would continue with his personal efforts.

"I have worked, including yourself, with four prime ministers in our attempts to seek a peaceful solution for Bougainville.

"Let me say that of all the prime ministers that I have had the privilege to serve in my assignment looking for peace for Bougainville, you have given me the most leeway. You have given me an opening . . . .to deal with Bougainville and I thank you for that.''

Bougainville MP John Momis thanked Mr. Skate for his commitment to peace "in particular to his commitment to a democratic strategy and a human strategy of resolving this very difficult problem.

"Mr. Prime Minister, every Bougainvillean present here today acknowledges your total commitment to ensure that the people of Bougainville are once again freed from fear, from all forms of oppression and that they may once again take their place in the greater society of Papua New Guinea.''


PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 26, 1999 - Post-Courier)--- Prime Minister Bill Skate has praised Bougainville leaders for their seriousness in trying to speed up the peace process in the Bougainville crisis.

At the signing of a new peace deal for Bougainville -- the Matakana and Okataina Understanding, in Rotorua, New Zealand -- Mr. Skate said the meeting had achieved its objectives.

"I think this is the meeting (in which) we have been frank and honest, open about everything,'' Mr. Skate said.

"Along the way some of us were angry, some of us were not honest, but in the end we have achieved what we wanted. I want to say thank you.

"This meeting also strengthens what we have been talking about. The Lincoln Agreement, the Burnham Agreement, Cairns -- and we should now move forward. We should never look back now.

"But, only you can do it. I can only facilitate.

"You know the problem. You know the answer. We have concluded that the answer has been found, that is the leadership . . . and I think we can solve it.''

He praised the leaders for their understanding and pledge to unite and work together in the peace process.

The special state negotiator for Bougainville, Sir John Kaputin, also hailed the leaders for the stand they had taken to work together in search of peace.

"This is perhaps the first time for us to be given the challenge to actually discuss real issues -- what lies ahead.

"The Matakana and Okataina Understanding is part of the process that we are going through in our search for a peaceful solution to the Bougainville situation,'' said Sir John.

"It further pledges us to the principles of the Lincoln Agreement and to the permanent and irrevocable cease fire that we have committed ourselves to.

"It is significant because . . . and perhaps historical because for the first time we are directed to looking into the question of powers, structures, functions and the status of Bougainville.

"This is not to say that this document is final. No, it is a starting point for us for something to be put on the table to which we can focus on (in) the future and try to find what is the ultimate answer for Bougainville.

"This document challenges us for that,'' Sir John told the leaders.

"It calls upon all our people, all our citizens, whichever group you are from, whatever political group you are from or any other group. This document calls upon you to direct your attention to the questions now before us as far as function, powers, structure and the status for Bougainville.

"We, as workers on behalf of our people whether in Bougainville or throughout the rest of Papua New Guinea, we now must accept responsibility as co-workers to focus our attention on these principles,'' he added.

Sir John said the understanding also looked into the question of leadership.

"It calls upon our leaders to unite . . . to put . . . heads together and work for our people to achieve what we have been looking for . . . a peaceful, political settlement for Bougainville,'' he said.

Sir John said the G17 (Group of 17 MPs from the Islands region) will do their part in ensuring they work together in dealing with issues concerning Bougainville in Parliament.

He said the group will also ensure that the four MPs from Bougainville "work together . . . . with the people of Bougainville.

"The document also outlines many things for us to follow. There are issues such as weapons disposal, which is important, what has to be done.

"It is our firm commitment that we ourselves, the 17 Members from the Islands region, must form the nucleus for the push for either the constitutional changes or an Act of Parliament for change for Bougainville.

"There is an important element in this document and that is one of reconstruction and how to go about this, what is needed to be done as far as legislation, to give you the power so that your leaders and representatives can be meaningful participants in the reconstruction of Bougainville.

"This document also commits us in terms of the implementation of the existing agreements, this is . . . the cease fire agreement and the Lincoln Agreement.''


PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 26, 1999 - Post-Courier)---The Co-Chairman of the Bougainville Constituent Assembly, Joseph Kabui, is likely to visit Port Moresby next month for the first time since the Bougainville conflict began.

Prime Minister Bill Skate confirmed that he had invited Mr. Kabui to visit Port Moresby as part of the peace and healing process. Mr. Skate said he saw the visit as an important step in the search for lasting peace.

During his flight from Auckland to Sydney on Thursday afternoon, following the signing of a new Bougainville pace pact in Rotorua, New Zealand, Mr. Skate chatted informally with the rebel army commander Sam Kauona, who is understood to be traveling on a PNG passport issued at Mr. Skate's direction.

Mr. Kabui said: "One more step has been taken. Once again we have arrived at that point after a lot of painstaking negotiations. But at the end of the day, it is one more proof that Bougainvilleans do have a way of sorting out our differences.

"There are still a lot of differences . . . .We still have a long way to go but I believe in all honesty that the way we have come so far . . . the advances that we have made so far since July of 1997, that in itself is . . . evidence that we can continue to withstand whatever kind of storm lies ahead,'' he said.

Mr. Kabui also praised the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, the PNG Security Forces and the Resistance Forces for showing restraint.

"We politicians, we can come up and we can negotiate and come up with agreements that we can be proud of, but if men who have something in their own hands . . . if they do something that can completely turn the whole place into flames again, it will be all a waste of time.

"We had near misses along the way we have come, but so far, it's been very good.''

He acknowledged that the military forces were restraining themselves, despite some skirmishes. "Nowhere in the world will we find everything is nice, rosy and ice cream," Mr. Kabui said, "But I think we have shown that while there are problems in Yugoslavia, problems in East Timor, while there are problems in other places, agreements have been signed, cease fires have been signed here in the case of Bougainville. . . . we have come so far. When we said this is an irrevocable cease fire, we believed what we have said . . . we believed that what we have said is a commitment that we made and it is sticking on and I believe it will stick on.

"I believe we have passed the most critical stage of the peace process. If the peace process would have failed, it would have failed after April 30, 1998. I believe, having gone past that now, whatever the final outcome of the Bougainville conflict, no doubt is in our hands and we are fully aware of it.''

North Bougainville MP Michael Ogio and South Bougainville MP Michael Laimo welcomed the breakthrough and pledged their commitment to working with all Bougainville leaders to achieve peace.

Said Mr. Ogio: "I believe our vision for our people is prosperity, growth and survival. Let us now, leaders of Bougainville, lead our people side by side to a future of prosperity, growth and survival. Let us forget the past.''

Mr. Laimo said: " The total answer for our problem is in our hands and it is a challenge to all of us all factions on Bougainville.''

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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