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By Philip Kepson

RABAUL, Papua New Guinea (October 26, 1999 – The National)---Rebel hardliners on Bougainville reiterated yesterday that they would not disarm themselves until the Government clarifies its position on their push for independence.

Their spokesman and a member of the Bougainville Peoples Congress (PBC), Andrew Miriki, said they had taken up arms for the purpose of fighting for independence and it was foolish for them to disarm themselves without settling the root cause of the problem.

"We have not accepted the Government's announcement on offering us greater autonomy as a political solution to the conflict because that was not what we have been fighting for," he said.

"What we wanted from day one up until now is independence," Mr. Miriki said.

The rebel hardliner's comments came in the wake of BPC President Joseph Kabui's statement that the BPC had accepted the Government's offer on condition that the issue of independence through a referendum was still open for negotiation.

Mr. Miriki said yesterday from Buin in South Bougainville, through satellite telephone, that what Mr. Kabui said had represented only the views of the BPC members, but not the rebels.

"Our position is that we want the Government to come out clear on our push for independence. We want the Government to make its position clear on the Hurtzena Minute that allowed for a referendum to determine the political future of Bougainvilleans," Mr. Miriki said.

The Hurtzena agreement was signed between the rebel faction and former Prime Minister Bill Skate before the change of Government.

Mr. Miriki added that disarmament was a side issue that the Government was trying to give prominence to in the peace process, with the aim of covering the real issue of independence.

"Disarmament is not the root cause of the Bougainville crisis. The root cause of the conflict, as I have said, was independence and the Government must come clear on the issue," he said.

Asked about Mr. Kabui's criticism about his previous statement, Mr. Miriki said Mr. Kabui was not happy about his statement because he had made the statement under BPC, adding that one must understand the difference between the rebel hardliners and the members of the BPC in relation to the background of the conflict.

"We are not disputing the BPC's position because it is a faction of its own. We (the rebels) are different with our own position and ideas to pursue in the peace process," Mr. Miriki said.

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



PORT MORESBY, Port Moresby (October 29, 1999 – The National)---Foreign Affairs Minister Sir Michael Somare has challenged Bougainville leaders to put aside their differences and promote reconciliation.

Sir Michael said in a statement yesterday that the bipartisan approach was the best way of achieving widespread support required for progressive political settlement.

"It is the only practical way forward for progressive settlement of important and sensitive issues," he said.

Sir Michael also urged the islanders to suggest an agenda and timetable for finalizing long-term arrangements for a government in Bougainville within the set time frame.

Highlighting the results of the last meeting he held with Bougainville leaders on Nissan Island earlier in October, Sir Michael noted that it had clarified misleading claims on a referendum or an option for independence.

Acknowledging the presence of the four Bougainville MPs who attended the meeting, Sir Michael urged everyone to follow the Lincoln Agreement for all parties to cooperate on arms disposal.

"Weapons disposal is vital to securing the freedom on which civil authority and democracy both depend.

"It is a prerequisite for a progressive political settlement in which people are able to speak, to meet in order to hear different views and then vote freely," Sir Michael said.

He noted that all parties had agreed to work through the peace process consultative committee to develop an agreed plan for weapons disposal with the assistance of the UN observer mission.

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

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