THIRD ROUND OF BOUGAINVILLE TALKS OPTIMISTIC

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By Veronica Hatutasi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 16, 2000 – The Independent)---Governor John Momis and Bougainville People’s Congress (BPC) President Joseph Kabui will lead the Bougainville contingent in the third round of political negotiations which will commence this afternoon in Port Moresby.

It is Mr. Kabui’s first visit to Port Moresby in the 12 years since the conflict on the island broke out in 1988.

A source from Buka said about 20 people from Bougainville, including seven leaders, 10 technical officers and other leaders, make up the contingent scheduled to meet with their national government counterparts at Loloata island for the next four days.

The source was hopeful that the parties involved would reach some understanding in this round of talks.

He said the Bougainville delegation was ready with their agenda items for the negotiations and were taking a united stand to present their package to the national government.

According to the source, parties on Bougainville, including Governor John Momis, the BPC and the Leitana Council of Elders (LCOE), stood firmly united to negotiate the two related and inseparable issues of highest autonomy and a referendum vote for Bougainville.

He said with the focus on the two said issues, the delegation wanted an autonomous government with exclusive powers established immediately on Bougainville.

He also said a referendum regarding Bougainville’s independence is a must in order to gauge the people’s views and support or otherwise.

Regarding the Bougainville leaders rejection of the government’s counter offer presented last week in Buka on the framework for developing an autonomous government on the island, Bougainville Affairs minister Sir Michael Somare said this would not deter the peace process and the political talks from going ahead.

He said what the government was trying to do was to present a framework which would establish an autonomous, democratic and legal government which fell under the PNG constitutional framework.

Meanwhile, the source said nominations for the interim Bougainville provincial government members is taking place this week and the swearing in will be done next week after the talks.

This follows the National Court decision last Friday during which Deputy Chief Justice Sir Mari Kapi directed Governor Momis to immediately set up an interim provincial government to govern the province and its people until the 2002 national elections.

Governor Momis wanted the court’s clarification on the legality issues involved in the setting up of the interim arrangement and the assembly members, as he did not want court challenges regarding its legality after the authority was established.

The source said the composition of the members was still being sorted out. However the Greenhouse Memorandum of Understanding provided guidelines to Bougainville leaders.

He said that the consultative forum provided a mechanism for groups to discuss and sort issues out between the concerned groups.

In view of the national government and parliament not recognizing the BPC as a legal government on Bougainville, the source said BPC is there to negotiate the political future for the island while the interim government is the mechanism through which services will be provided to the people and province.

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

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