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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 9, 2000 – Post-Courier)---The Bougainville leadership yesterday rejected the National Government's position on their proposal for the highest possible autonomy for the province and a referendum on independence.

It was a significant show of unity by the Bougainville leadership. Their rejection of the Government's position paper, which they claimed did not address the two key issues in any substance, came after the second day of talks in Buka.

The proposals are contained in the Government's offer entitled Framework for Development Autonomy in Bougainville. It was presented by the leader of the delegation, Sir Michael Somare.

Sir Michael left Buka yesterday and, according to insiders, told the leaders he was "ashamed'' at having brought them nothing constructive.

A broad coalition of Bougainville leaders, including the Leitana Council of Elders, Bougainville People's Congress President Joseph Kabui and Governor John Momis, co-leaders of the Bougainville delegation at the talks, said the Government proposal was full of inconsistencies and was an insult to their intelligence.

"It wanted to start the whole process again and ignores all that has been achieved so far," said Joel Banam, Chairman of Leitana Council of Elders.

"It appears that the Government is receiving its decisions from the Bougainville Office for Peace and Restoration rather than the other way around, and that is from the leaders."

Mr. Momis said: "The Government wanted a unified Bougainville position and we provided it. They promised action once that occurred and now they have not lived up to their promise. To say that Bougainvilleans are disappointed is an understatement."

Mr. Momis said the future of the negotiations would depend on whether or not the politicians in the Government could take control of the bureaucrats. But the Bougainville leadership maintained it would remain committed to the peace process.

Mr. Kabui, while delivering a brief response to Sir Michael's presentation, acknowledged the Government's commitment to continue dialogue on the issues of autonomy and referendum for Bougainville.

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

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