BOUGAINVILLEANS SET FOR RALLY IN ARAWA

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By Moresi Ruahma'a

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 29, 2000 – The National)---The Bougainville crisis-tattered township of Arawa in Central Bougainville will come alive tomorrow when thousands of people stage a protest march to push for the highest form of autonomy and a referendum on independence.

A petition to this effect will be delivered to Bougainville Peoples Congress President and Bougainville Governor John Momis.

And as the countdown to the fifth and final round of peace talks draws near, people from all over the island are gathering in Arawa.

The details of the petition are not clear but Mr. Momis' media officer, Timothy Masiu, said: "It will be in support of the highest form of autonomy and the referendum."

"People of Bougainville, including the mothers and children, from South, Central and North will take to the streets of Arawa and march to deliver a petition to Mr. Momis and Joseph Kabui, to be handed over to the National Government,'' he said yesterday.

Mr. Masiu, who is now in Port Moresby, flew over from Buka with the Bougainville technical team ahead of the fifth round of leaders’ talks next Monday (September 4), told The National the situation is very tense on the island.

"But that does not mean that there will be fighting ... it's just that people are really on their toes; they want the National Government to fast-track the peace process,'' he said.

Mr. Masiu also said: ''The Bougainville technical team is ready to seriously talk and set out the groundwork for the talks, and we want the same approach from the National Government technical team.''

Meanwhile, the Bougainville Freedom Movement (BFM) group based in Cairns, Australia, has commended Mining and Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Michael Somare for supporting the demand for a referendum on independence.

Sir Michael was reported to have said he is keen to pave the way for a referendum on the political future of North Solomons province.

In a joint media release, BFM spokesmen William Ruama Reinhart and Solomon Havini said: "We are very happy that Sir Michael has come to his senses.''

They said: "As a leader of high profile and the first Prime Minister of PNG with good historical knowledge of the Bougainville struggle, we salute him for his courage he took on this very sensitive issue.''

Mr. Reinhart and Havini said: "Nobody likes war on the island, and we are adamant that the referendum is the only ultimate aim to achieve lasting peace to determine the wishes of the people.''

The spokesmen also appealed to all leaders in the National Government to work tirelessly in Melanesian spirit towards a true and amicable solution.

They also warned against any divide and rule tactics which the government might try to play to delay the peace process.

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

Provided by Vikki John ( VIKKI@law.uts.edu.au

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