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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 28, 2001 – Post-Courier)---Opposition leader Bill Skate last night urged the government to give the highest possible autonomy immediately to Bougainville.

Speaking by telephone from Brisbane where he is recuperating after undergoing specialist medication after a series of heart attacks two months ago, Mr. Skate said a referendum for independence for the province should follow after it received autonomy.

Mr. Skate, credited with achieving solid groundwork for negotiations between independence proponents in Bougainville and the National Government, said he was happy with the progress of the peace negotiations.

He hailed the negotiations as a success so far and urged the political leadership to consider giving the province its own government.

He welcomed Bougainville rebel Damien Damen joining the peace negotiations.

He said it was a good sign for the talks, especially because Mr. Damen is an independence hardliner.

He urged Francis Ona, the self-proclaimed president of Bougainville, to come out and join the talks.

"I want to congratulate leaders of Bougainville for achieving so much in the peace process,’’ Mr. Skate said.

"They are responsible for it. They deserve praise for that.’’

Mr. Skate said it was only proper now for the government to recognize efforts for peace by peaceful means by the Bougainvilleans and give them an autonomous government.

"The government has to do that as soon as possible, before the end of this year,’’ Mr. Skate said.

Talks have been going on for the past week in Port Moresby to find some common ground on the issue.

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

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