BOUGAINVILLE FOLK IN SOLOMON ISLANDS RELUCTANT TO RETURN

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By Philip Kepson

RABAUL, Papua New Guinea (January 6, 2000 – The National)---More than 3,000 Bougainvilleans living in different parts of the Solomon Islands will not return to the crisis-torn island unless Bougainville leaders and the government find a lasting solution to the ongoing political conflict, according to rebels.

Rebel hardliner Andrew Miriki said yesterday from Buin, after returning from a trip to the Solomon Islands, that the government and the Bougainville leaders must do their groundwork before they start talking about repatriating Bougainvilleans from the Solomon Islands.

Mr. Miriki, who is also a member in the Bougainville Peoples Congress, said the two main concerns that the Bougainvilleans raised with him while he was in the Solomon Islands, include the difficulties they anticipated in resettling on their traditional land, particularly since they have been away from the area almost since the crisis began, and what form of assistance the authorities would provide for them to restart life on Bougainville.

"Their main concern is how they would resettle in their homes after living away for almost 10 years," Mr. Miriki said.

He said he had discovered that most Bougainvilleans had settled well in different parts of Solomon Islands, with some securing decent jobs. In order to repatriate them, he added, the Government and the Bougainville leaders must come up with a realistic plan.

Mr. Miriki said the Bougainvilleans living there want assurance from parties involved in the peace process that it would not crumble on their return.

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

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