GREATER AUTONOMY, BUT NOT INDEPENDENCE FOR BOUGAINVILLE, CONSIDERED BY PNG GOVERNMENT

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 4, 1999 - PACNEWS/Radio Australia)---The Papua New Guinea Government has indicated it may give greater autonomy to Bougainville, but Prime Minister Bill Skate said his Government will not grant independence, or negotiate on the issue.

In a meeting with Bougainville leaders in Buka last week, Skate said his Government is prepared to negotiate on greater autonomy for the island, and would consider a referendum on the issue.

"Independence is non-negotiable, the constitutional does not allow it," Skate said. "Bougainville is part, an integral part of Papua New Guinea.

"We have had discussions on this issue and both agreed that greater autonomy is the way to go.

"But we have to look at it and set up a mechanism that is going to be more realistic, practical and workable for the people of Bougainville," Prime Minister Skate said.

Earlier, the President of the Bougainville Congress, Joseph Kabui, said independence for the war-torn island is still the ultimate goal. The Congress, Bougainville’s new Parliament, was established last month.

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