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By Neville Choi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (February 17, 2000 – The Independent)---Opposition Leader Bill Skate wants the government to know that he is back from holidays, and that what he describes as the government’s "honeymoon" is now over.

Resuming his position as Opposition Leader after taking leave from active parliamentary duties, Mr. Skate told reporters on Tuesday that the opposition had given ample time for the government to prove that it was capable of governing the nation.

He said that it was the opposition’s view that the country’s state of affairs had worsened.

The most prominent of the government’s "failures," according to Mr. Skate, was its handling of the Bougainville issue.

Mr. Skate told reporters he was disgusted with the government and Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta’s failure to meet with a Bougainville delegation last week.

"I am totally disgusted and disappointed with the government and particularly the Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta.

I can understand that there are pressing issues to do with the economy. But last week when the 16-strong Bougainvillean front-liners came here with an open heart to speak as one voice on behalf of the people of Bougainville to achieve peace process through peaceful means, the PM did not even give one minute to spend with the leaders," Mr Skate said.

Sir Mekere in a response to Mr Skate’s criticism labeled the opposition’s claims of him snubbing the Bougainville delegation as misleading and against the spirit of the government’s bipartisan approach.

"There were approaches to meet me on Monday (this week), but I was fully committed with NEC meetings. Time was set aside on Tuesday but the delegation had to return to Bougainville. Whilst they were not here to negotiate, I had ensured that we took full advantage of their visit by having them meet with Sir Michael and his ministerial committee, including Dame Josephine Abaijah and Henry Smith, Minister Moi Avei and senior officers of my department," Sir Mekere said.

He also called on Mr Skate and the opposition not to use the Bougainville issue to ‘play politics.’

He maintained that throughout the Bougainville delegation’s meetings with the ministerial committee, he was kept well informed of the outcomes of the meetings and the delegation’s "expressed satisfaction at the outcome of these informal discussions."

Sir Mekere added that he would maintain a personal interest on Bougainville, and reaffirmed his government’s commitment to addressing the major issues during the next round of talks scheduled for the end of this month in Bougainville.

Reports, however, have stated that the 16-member delegation returned to Bougainville disappointed at not meeting with the prime minister.

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

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