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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 28, 1999 – The National)---Mining and Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Michael Somare has reiterated his challenge to the leaders and people of Bougainville to continue their work on finalizing a government framework that will bring lasting peace to the island.

Sir Michael carried out the promise he made to Bougainville leaders by conveying their joint negotiating position on the political future of Bougainville to Cabinet for consideration.

Sir Michael made the remarks while presenting the Hutjena Record, which he and prominent Bougainville leaders signed last week as the official record of the agreements.

Cabinet will consider the minutes and respond to it early in the New Year.

Speaking on Christmas Eve after he had briefed Cabinet on last week's meeting in Buka, Sir Michael said, "I am pleased and impressed with the way in which Bougainville leaders have met the challenge I made last November for them to come together and develop a common position to present to the National Government before Christmas."

He described the cooperation that had resulted as "very positive for the future of the progressive political settlement in Bougainville as we enter the new millennium committed to laying firm foundations for lasting peace in Bougainville."

The key elements of the Hutjena Record include an agreement that the Minister for Bougainville Affairs would convey the Bougainvillean leaders' request for a binding referendum on independence to Cabinet for consideration.

They also include an agreement to negotiate over the highest level of autonomy for Bougainville.

Sir Michael emphasized that like everything else in the Joint Bougainville Negotiating Position and the Hutjena Record, the National Government's response will be subject to Cabinet approval and ultimately to the National Parliament's willingness to support appropriate legislation.

He appealed to Bougainville leaders to be realistic and honest with the people -- both about what the Hutjena Record actually says and about the available options.

"As I have said before, the Constitution of Papua New Guinea does not currently provide for a referendum," he said. "Successive governments and leaders of all major political parties and groups in the National Parliament have repeatedly said that independence for Bougainville is not an option. The present government is prepared to look at the issues raised by the Bougainville parties. We are ready to consult and cooperate with them in developing a workable autonomy package within the framework of the Papua New Guinea Constitution."

He said that he expects to meet again with Bougainville leaders early in the New Year and inform them of the National Government's formal response to their proposals.

"I hope that we can then get down to serious work on the details of a mutually acceptable set of agreements for governing Bougainville in the long term," he said.

The National

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