BOUGAINVILLE PEACE TALKS STALL OVER ARMS

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (October 21, 2000 – Sydney Morning Herald/Australian Associated Press)---A dispute over the timing and arrangements for the disarmament of former secessionist rebels on Bougainville has stalled final peace talks on the island's political future.

Guerilla hardliners are urging a pullout from negotiations here with the Papua New Guinea Government.

In Gizo, Solomon Islands, the commander of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), "General" Ishmael Toroama, has warned that his force will abandon the peace process unless it gains a "mutually agreed and iron-clad agreement."

In Port Moresby the former BRA operations commander, Peter Naguo, has called on Bougainville leaders locked in talks with the central government to withdraw from the negotiations and return to Bougainville.

General Toroama has also rallied against Australia's promise of $10 million to help restructure and pay off the debts of the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF), saying it is a threat to "the fragile peace process."

Since 1998 more than 150 soldiers and defense personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu have maintained the peace on the island. They were due to leave last December, in expectation of a political settlement.

The Acting Bougainville Affairs Minister, Moi Avei, began the expected "final" peace talks with Bougainvillean leaders in Port Moresby this week, with a formal signing of an agreement planned for the former Bougainville capital of Arawa next Tuesday.

But the talks have dragged on, with no official indication of the reasons for the delay.

BRA hardliners insisted, sources said, that weapons would not be surrendered until Port Moresby legislated for a referendum giving Bougainvilleans the option of independence.

General Toroama said 30 crack Australian SAS experts would be re-training PNG soldiers, and the Howard government's aid package was "a reopening of the former Labor government's open policy of assisting the PNGDF prosecute the war on Bougainville."

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

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