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By Harlyne Joku

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 24, 2000 – The National)---PNG and Bougainville leaders yesterday agreed to an autonomous government for the island.

An agreement signed in the capital yesterday by leaders of the PNG and Bougainville delegations also acknowledged the aspirations of the Bougainville leaders for a binding referendum on independence.

The "Loloata Understanding" was signed by Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Michael Somare and Bougainville People's Congress President Joseph Kabui after nearly a week of talks at the Loloata Island and the Islander Travelodge Hotel in Port Moresby.

Sir Michael hailed the agreement as a turning point while Mr. Kabui called it a "victory for peace."

Under the Loloata Understanding, the parties agreed that the holding of the referendum may be deferred until after the autonomous government has been set up and can be fairly and properly judged.

The agreement allows for an autonomous government to be set up on Bougainville to enable the Bougainville people to express and develop both their identity and relationship with the rest of Papua New Guinea.

The arrangements for an autonomous Bougainville Government will be made within the PNG Constitution and will provide for the following:

The agreement said that as Bougainville will take some years to assume responsibility for a full range of powers and functions, the National Government legislation and institutions will continue to apply.

The statement also acknowledged that Bougainville will need fiscal and personnel resources to carry out its functions and will receive substantial funds for reconstruction, restoration and development activities to support the peace process.

Under interim arrangements, a Bougainville Interim Provincial Government would be established under the Transitional Provisions of the Organic Law on Provincial and Local-level Governments in accordance with the National Court decision of March 10.

The parties also noted that arrangements for cooperation between the Bougainville Interim Provincial Government and the Bougainville People's Congress and Council of Elders had been agreed under the Greenhouse Memorandum of December 23, 1999.

Sir Michael said the agreement marked a high point in the peace process and the signing was an important turning point from the time when he submitted the Bougainville leaders' common position for Cabinet to consider in October of last year.

"We have certainly come a long way since I issued my original challenge," he said.

"We have not only confirmed our strong shared commitment to a progressive settlement and peace by peaceful means, but set ourselves an ambitious agenda for future discussions."

Mr. Kabui said Loloata Understanding will take the peace process a few steps further towards finding a solution to Bougainville.

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

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