HOPES RISE FOR BOUGAINVILLE AUTONOMY AGREEMENT

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RABAUL, Papua New Guinea (September 6, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Negotiations on Bougainville's political future will continue today in the northern Papua New Guinea town of Rabaul.

Radio Australia correspondent Richard Dinnen reports that there is some hope an agreement can be reached on autonomy for Bougainville before the end of the week.

"Today is the third day of this critical round of negotiations between the Bougainville leaders and the Papua New Guinea government.

"The Bougainville leadership arrived on Monday full of frustration and anger at the government's slow progress. Some have been talking of a potential breakdown in negotiations. But the mood has improved.

"Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Michael Somare has decided to stay on, canceling a trip to Australia for the funeral of a former colonial administrator. His decision is being seen as a sign that some progress can be made and that an agreement could be reached by week's end.

"Richard Dinnen, Radio Australia."

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

 

SECESSION NOT AN OPTION FOR BOUGAINVILLE, SAYS SIR MEKERE

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 5, 2000 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Mekere has reaffirmed the National Government's stand that secession for North Solomons province (Bougainville) is not an option.

At the same time Sir Mekere announced that:

In a major statement on the Bougainville peace process, autonomy and referendum to Parliament, Sir Mekere downgraded a promised eventual referendum on independence -- agreed under pressure by Sir Michael with the Bougainvilleans in Port Moresby on March 23 -- to referenda on the acceptance or otherwise of greater autonomy that might be given to the islanders.

He said, "although the word 'referendum' has come to be used in some circles as a form of short-hand for a binding referendum on independence for Bougainville, let me make clear that the government's (and, I believe, the entire Parliament's) position for national sovereignty, unity and independence -- and against secession – remains.

"But the question of a possible referendum, say, on the continuing suitability and acceptability of the arrangements for autonomy in Bougainville is still on the table," said Sir Mekere.

He quoted the signatories to the March 23 Loloata Understanding that the holding of a referendum "may be deferred until after the autonomy has been implemented and can be fairly and properly judged.

"We believe that the appropriate context for sounding out public opinion is, say, after three or so five-yearly joint reviews of a functioning system of arrangements for autonomy," he said.

He said Sir Michael had promised Bougainville leaders he would bring their proposals, including the referendum question, before Cabinet for consideration and decision.

"He has now honored his commitment, with my active support," the Prime Minister said.

Sir Mekere noted that the major sticking point in the political talks had been the Bougainville delegation's proposal of a constitutional guarantee for a binding referendum on independence.

"The difficulties it poses begin with the longstanding and unshakeable determination of every Papua New Guinea Government since independence – and every significant shade of current political opinion -- to ensure that Papua New Guinea remains a single, united and sovereign nation," he said.

Bougainvillean leaders had earlier set a September 15 deadline for Waigani to finalize legislative proposals for greater autonomy and an eventual referendum on independence.

The planned meeting between government and Bougainville leaders in Rabaul starting today would be an important opportunity for parties to discuss details of options for Bougainville's political status.

On the question of a national debate on referenda, Sir Mekere said the Constitution did not provide for people to be consulted directly on matters of national importance through referenda. "Perhaps, it is time that it should," he added.

"So I am taking the initiative on the question by proposing that Parliament should consider the option, and express its views on how best to proceed.

"I am moving a motion intended to open discussion of the important national issues involved by asking the Parliament to endorse the idea that the national Constitution should be amended to provide a proper, lawful framework for referenda.

"I believe that the motion should then be adjourned so that Members can consult their constituents -- and work through the issues -- before Parliament resumes in a few weeks, and continues the debate.

"My purpose in proposing such a procedure is to promote public awareness, understanding and support of the issues involved. It is, emphatically, not delay."

Sir Mekere said that the very idea that the Constitution should make formal provision for referenda raised important questions of constitutional principle and practice.

The founding fathers did not simply overlook the possibility of including such a provision, they decided against it, he said, adding that whether or not to establish such a mechanism was an important national question.

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 

 

PEACE HOPES FOUNDER AFTER PM THROWS WATER ON BOUGAINVILLE REFERENDUM

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 5, 2000 – Sydney Morning Herald)---Bougainville leaders preparing for yesterday's "final" peace talks in the secessionist province said they were "bitterly disappointed" by the opposition of the Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta, to a referendum on independence.

The Governor of North Solomons Province (Bougainville), Mr. John Momis, said: "If the government holds to this line there is a real risk that the peace process will fail."

A government delegation led by the Bougainville Affairs Minister, Sir Michael Somare, yesterday began what was to be a final peace negotiation meeting with Mr. Momis, Mr. Joseph Kabui, the President of the Bougainville People's Congress and a former Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) leader, and other island leaders.

In March, after 15 months of negotiations, Sir Michael agreed to take to the Cabinet a plan for greater autonomy on Bougainville -- one of PNG's 19 provinces -- and an eventual referendum on total independence.

However, in an address to the nation last Friday, the Prime Minister said his government was firmly against secession or a referendum on independence, and that Bougainville would not be given greater autonomy unless BRA guerillas surrendered their arms.

The PNG Defense Force and the BRA fought a war on the island for nine years until a cease-fire was signed three years ago.

As the national government and Bougainvillean leaders prepared for their meeting in the town of Rabaul, East New Britain Province, yesterday Mr. Momis said Bougainville rebels would not dispose of their weapons until the political issues were resolved.

He said, "The issue of referendum on independence is fundamental to any resolution of the Bougainville crisis."

"The Government set the date of September 15 [as a deadline for final political resolution] and now has delivered an approach that gives little hope for an early outcome."

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