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RABAUL, Bougainville (April 29, 1999 – PACNEWS)---Bougainville rebel spokesman Andrew Miriki says the push for independence for the war-torn island is not over yet.

He was reacting to the signing last week of the Matakana and Okataina Understanding in New Zealand.

"Nobody had pushed the issue of independence under the bridge," he said.

Miriki brushed aside remarks from the Leitana Council of Chiefs chairman Joel Latu Banam and Resistance Forces Commander Hilary Masiria, that the issue of independence was a non-issue following the signing of the agreement.

The leaders of the different factions (signatories to the understanding) had agreed to stop making media statements that would provoke unwanted statements, thus endangering the spirit of the understanding.

Speaking from Buin yesterday, Miriki said it was not his intention to go to the media. He was only responding to the two leaders (Masiria and Banam) who made public statements on the issue.

Miriki said the rebels would like to remind supporters they only took part in the signing of the agreement because they felt that it was necessary to do so. He added the rebel faction agreed to the contents of the understanding because most of the issues were subject to further negotiation.

"The understanding was signed mainly to bring the leaders together to further negotiate the outstanding issues. It was never done with the purpose of bringing the issues to an end," he said.

Miriki admitted the issue of independence was not included in the understanding for discussion, but they will take it up in future talks as it is relates to the peace discussion for Bougainville.


PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 29, 1999 – The National)---Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has welcomed the signing of the Matakana and Okataina Understanding in New Zealand as another milestone in the Bougainville peace process.

"I warmly welcome the signature in New Zealand of the Matakana and Okataina Understanding between Papua New Guinea and the leaders of Bougainville," he said. "It is another milestone in the Bougainville peace process."

"I congratulate all the participants for the strength of leadership they have displayed in finding common ground."

Mr. Downer said all parties have recommitted themselves to the letter and the spirit of the Lincoln Agreement and also set out some additional practical steps for reaching a negotiated settlement.

He said leaders from Port Moresby and Bougainville, including Bougainvillean members of the National Parliament, have again demonstrated that with goodwill, determination and a willingness to compromise, they can meet widespread expectations for peace.

"I do not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead. After years of conflict and suffering, reconciliation and trust will not always come easily. But nor do I underestimate the capacity of Prime Minister Bill Skate, his Government and the leaders of Bougainville to steer the peace process through the remaining difficulties towards a lasting settlement," Mr. Downer said.

"I urged them to continue to work in a spirit of cooperation and reconciliation."

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