CABINET URGED TO SPEED UP TALKS ON BOUGAINVILLE AUTONOMY

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By Jack Metta

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (October 3, 2000 – The National)---The Bougainville ceasefire on April 30, 1998 was sufficient for the National Government to begin legislative changes in order to accommodate the two key issues of autonomy and a referendum on Bougainville independence, according to BRA secretary Robinson Asotau.

Mr. Asotau, who has since taken over the responsibility of handling technical officers’ and leadership meetings from Bougainville rebel commander Sam Kauona, was part of the Bougainville team at the recent peace talks in Rabaul.

He made the remark in response to Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta's statement that before any legislation for autonomy and referendum takes effect, the question of disarmament and weapons disposal must be addressed by the leaders of Bougainville.

"This stance has upset many Bougainvillean leaders involved in the peace process, including Governor John Momis, BPC President Joe Kabui and rebel leader Sam Kauona.

"The arms issue was a difficult one that needed leaders from both the National Government and the Bougainville side to provide a political environment that is conducive for it to happen," Mr. Asotau said.

"The passage of a new law to accommodate autonomy and a referendum for Bougainville in the context of arms disposal in itself is an assurance by former combatants that the political solution is in the making and that arms are no longer essential.

"The longer the government takes to seriously address these two key issues, the longer it will take for the arms disposal program to begin," Mr. Asotau said.

"The people of this country must be made aware that all BRA weapons are not owned by the former Bougainville Interim Government as believed by the National Government.

"In our case, the weapons are owned by individual combatants and for them to just simply give them away, is beyond any military comparison, unless of course an agreed political answer is put in place."

Mr. Asotau said BRA already has a weapons disposal program, which he envisaged would be implemented when the autonomous Bougainville government is formed and is fairly and properly judged by the people of Bougainville.

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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