BOUGAINVILLE TEAMS WORK ON STATEMENT DETAILS

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 23, 2000 – The National)---The expected joint statement between Papua New Guinea and Bougainville negotiators on the future of the troubled island province did not eventuate yesterday.

Instead, the negotiators last night were working out the finer details of an agreement, which hopefully will be signed today.

Both sides have been meeting in Port Moresby since the weekend to discuss Bougainville's political future, especially the question of autonomy and an independence referendum.

The expected signing at the Port Moresby Islander Travelodge Hotel was to take place at 7:30 p.m. following dinner. However, when dinner was eventually taken at 9:00 p.m., Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Michael Somare announced that no amicable solution was reached during the day and, therefore, no agreement would be signed.

Bougainville People's Congress Leader Joseph Kabui told The National earlier that there were some differences between the parties over the text of part of the agreement that related to a referendum and autonomy.

Mr. Kabui said that as of noon on Monday the political leaders had settled for a formal government commitment to allow a referendum to be held at some later date for Bougainville, and autonomy to be given.

However, Mr. Kabui said the Government's technical officers rephrased the text stating that first autonomy will be given to Bougainville and then the issue of a referendum will be further discussed.

"If all goes well, the agreement will be signed," Mr. Kabui said.

He said that at the talks at the political level, Bougainville leaders were assured that a referendum for Bougainville would be held after autonomy. However, when the text was worded by the technical officers, it stated autonomy for Bougainville and then the issue of referendum would be discussed.

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

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