BOUGAINVILLE REBELS DENY RAID ON GIZO

By Moresi Ruahma'a

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 13, 2000 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Bougainville rebels have denied any involvement in the reported takeover of Gizo town in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands over the weekend, saying it was masterminded by a Bougainvillean who is married to a woman from the area.

Rebel spokesman Robinson Asotau said from Buka yesterday that according to their information, a man from Buin who is married to a local woman from Vila-la-Vila in the Western province of the Solomon Islands was involved with his in-laws in the alleged raid.

Rebel leaders Ishmael Toroama and Thomas Tarii are currently in Gizo to investigate the alleged raid by the rebels, which reportedly left a security guard from Malaita dead.

"We should get further information as soon as Mr. Toroama and Mr. Tarii return from Gizo, but for now we are closely monitoring the situation along the border," Mr. Asotau said, adding that the Buin man was not associated with the Bougainville rebels in any way.

In related developments:

* Solomon Islands acting Police Commissioner John Hamelo, who had announced the alleged raid on Sunday, said yesterday fresh information suggested that it was the work of ''criminal elements" from Bougainville but no one was killed;

* Foreign Affairs Minister Sir John Kaputin said Papua New Guinea would not allow its territory to be used as a base for hostile attacks against neighboring countries or for interference in their internal affairs; and

* Villagers from Sirovai in central Bougainville who are traditional border crossers were fired upon on Sunday as they were traveling to the Solomon Islands.

"We are denying any involvement in what is going on in the Solomon Islands. What has been reported is misleading and is very harmful to the current peace process on Bougainville," Mr. Asotau said in a press statement.

Reports at the weekend quoted Commissioner Hamelo as saying that five fast boats carrying 40 men armed with M-16 assault rifles landed on Gizo at 5:00 a.m. They cut telephones lines and shot dead a guard from Malaita before local police realized that they were outgunned.

However, Mr. Hamelo told The National from Honiara yesterday, "No, there is no raid. No, they didn't raid the police station."

Mr. Hamelo said about 40 Bougainvilleans whom he believed were criminal elements had crossed to Gizo, taking advantage of the ethnic crisis in Honiara between the Malaitan Eagle Forces and Isatabu Freedom Movement.

"Our men in Gizo saw them going in four outboard motors. But they were told to leave and they have already left Gizo,'' he said, adding that they were from parts of Buin in South Bougainville.

The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Commission manager, Johnson Honimae, said a Bougainvillean who was married to a local woman had gone to Gizo with his wantoks looking for someone whom he claimed had threatened him earlier.

Speaking after a meeting with Bougainville People's Congress President Joseph Kabui yesterday, Sir John Kaputin said he had been advised that Papua New Guineans were not actively involved in conflict in the Solomon Islands.

Sir John said Bougainville rebels were not a party to any differences there.

"I have been told that their leaders have said they are opposed to activities across the common border which might compromise the sovereignty and security of good neighbors in Solomon Islands," he added.

Sir John said the evacuation of 200 Papua New Guineans trying to leave the Solomons for PNG was the only major cross-border activity currently taking place.

Earlier this year the Solomon Islands newspaper, Solomon Star, quoted the national parliamentarian from Choiseul, Manasa Songavare, as saying that if the situation in Honiara escalated he would not hesitate to order his people to arm themselves to protect the interests of his people.

People from Western Province are dark skinned and can be mistaken for Bougainvilleans.

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

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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