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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Jan. 24, 2000 – The National)---The Government was warned yesterday not to delay political negotiations on the Bougainville issue. The warning was issued by BPC president James Tanis, following the delay in setting up an interim government arrangement headed by John Momis as the governor and the postponement of negotiations to February 2000.

"We have shown that we are genuine and have demonstrated our goodwill by suggesting an interim arrangement which provides a compromise between the Supreme Court ruling that imposes the reforms system on Bougainville, and the wishes of the people to continue negotiating for the highest possible autonomy and a referendum for independence highlighted in the Green House MOU signed by BPC president Joseph Kabui and Governor John Momis before Christmas last year.

"The inability of the Government to facilitate the interim arrangement has thrown the affairs of the province into confusion. The provincial budget has not been appropriated and the four Bougainville MPs cannot form the quorum to pass a Supply Bill. Public servants are not being paid; services are at a standstill. I warn the Government of a possible strike by public servants, if the present scenario continues.

"More importantly, the Bougainville peace process is being threatened, due to lack of funding for reconciliation ceremonies, peace awareness, and leaders' meetings, said Mr. Tanis. While this happens, the hard-liners are already pushing for a unilateral declaration of independence.

"With the continuous frustration starting from the failure of Parliament to pass the necessary legislation to facilitate establishment of the BRGA, to the lifting of the suspension of the government and the inability to respond quickly to the Bougainville package, tension is mounting even at the leadership levels.

This will leave the BPC, which is the only political body that exists in the absence of a provincial assembly, with no choice but to call on the Government to fast-track negotiations on the highest possible autonomy and a referendum on independence.

"If the negotiations are delayed, the BPC would even consider the hard-liners' call for a unilateral declaration of independence for Bougainville," Mr. Tanis said.

He called on the Government to come out of the vicious circle of legal arguments and accept the reality that not every solution to the Bougainville conflict is within the framework of the PNG Constitution. Instead, he said, the Government must come to the negotiating table with the political will to amend the Constitution to allow for the highest autonomy and a referendum.

Only then will any discussions on the interim arrangement proceed, he said.

However, the quickest alternative is to legalize the PBC, he said.

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

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