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By Philip Kepson

RABAUL, Papua New Guinea (January 26, 2000 – The National)---Bougainville rebel leaders are voicing opposition to reports that Australia has asked the PNG government not to allow a referendum on independence to be held on the island.

Spokesman Andrew Miriki told The National over the weekend that his faction was told that Australia had advised the PNG government against the rebels' push for a referendum.

Miriki said Australia had maintained since the start of the peace process with the Burnham talks in New Zealand early last year that it would not interfere with issues on Bougainville.

He said they are surprised and disappointed with the latest move.

"We are disappointed after being reliably told that Australia has advised the PNG government not to entertain our push for a referendum," Miriki said.

He said their concern was raised at a meeting in Arawa last week with representatives from the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby.

When asked to comment, the Australian High Commission issued a statement saying the Australian government continues to support peace achieved by peaceful means in Bougainville, and will respect and support any lasting resolution to the Bougainville question agreed to by the parties involved.

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

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