BOUGAINVILLE CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS REGARDING AUTONOMY AND

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By Veronica Hatutasi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (February 3, 2000 – The Independent)---Bougainville wants the national government to make amendments to the constitution, which would allow for both the highest level of autonomy and a referendum on independence for the island, according to Bougainville People’s Congress President Joseph Kabui.

He said it was vital that the national government come up with an agreement regarding this in its next round of political negotiations with Bougainville leaders, commencing in Buka on February 14.

While commending the national government for finally setting up the interim administrative arrangements on Bougainville, Kabui warned that any interim arrangement must not supersede negotiations for the highest autonomy and a referendum on independence.

"Our perspective is that the interim arrangements will be no more than a temporary step on the road to autonomy and the referendum. Any deviation from the course may prove disastrous," Kabui said.

Last week, Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta announced the Cabinet’s approval of the establishment of a provincial executive council to work with Governor John Momis and the other three Bougainville national parliamentarians in providing a legal government for the province.

Sir Mekere said under the arrangement, the Bougainville People’s Congress and the Leitana Council of Elders have agreed to set up an informal consultative body to work with the governor and the other MPs. Groups which have chosen to stay outside the provincial government will be consulted before any important decisions are made, Sir Mekere said.

Kabui commended Sir Michael Somare and the government for being prepared to negotiate these two issues and take them up with parliament, and said such a response is a boost to the peace process.

The leaders also want the government’s negotiating team to come up with the mandate to negotiate on its (government) behalf.

Last week, the government set up a special committee of six to be headed by Sir Michael, who is the Bougainville Affairs Minister, to represent the national government at meetings with leaders on the island and to also coordinate follow-ups to agreements reached.

Consisting of ministers who cover key sectors of particular importance to the issues likely to be on the agenda at the next round of talks, they include the Health Minister Ludger Mond, Justice - Kilroy Genia, Planning and Implementation - Moi Avei, Public Service - Philemon Embel and Foreign Affairs - Sir John Kaputin.

Sir Mekere said the issues at the next round of talks concern almost every aspect of government in the country, including the powers and functions, resources and structure of government at every level.

He said it is vital that the government draws on the widest possible range of advice and brings the best minds to bear in defining the most practical and acceptable options.

He also said it was important to take a bipartisan approach so that agreements reached with Bougainville leaders can become law.

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

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