BOUGAINVILLE LEADERS WARN AGAINST CHANGING DEAL

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By Isaac Nicholas

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 19, 2001 – The National)---Bougainville Affairs Minister Moi Avei will report back to Cabinet this week that Bougainville leaders have "thrown out its plans and refused outright any moves to re-open talks on the Bougainville peace agreement."

Bougainville leaders, in a signed letter to Mr. Avei handed over by Governor John Momis and Bougainville People's Congress president Joseph Kabui, to be taken back to Cabinet, said the peace package "is the end of the road" and any moves at reopening talks will lead to death and bloodshed.

"This is a package made to end a war, that requires difficult and courageous decisions," said Mr. Kabui. "Autonomy, disposal of arms and referendum, if you take one out, you undermine the whole thing. You take referendum out, all our hard work will be for nothing.

"Minister, we dare not accept your invitation to change what we have so carefully, sometimes painfully, and effectively drafted. This is the least we can do. We simply cannot move any further. It is our joint moral duty and obligation to make it work.

"If we fail here, it will simply lead to death and bloodshed," Mr. Kabui warned.

The parties again signed an agreed proposal for the minister to take back to Cabinet, stressing that the final proposal was the end of the road and they will not entertain any more moves to re-open talks.

Mr. Avei said on arrival back in Port Moresby that "Bougainville leaders have reaffirmed their strong commitment to the three main pillars of the agreement which have been discussed -- autonomy, referendum and weapons disposal.

"The final political settlement, which we hope to finish drafting and then sign very soon, will consist of the agreements on referendum initialed in Kokopo on January 26 and the weapons disposal plan concluded with the ex-combatants in Buka on May 9, as well as the autonomy arrangements contained in the 'Agreed Basis,' which we initialed on June 22 and which Cabinet has been considering over the past two weeks."

Mr. Avei said like the National Government, Bougainville leaders see the arrangement for autonomy outlined in the 'Agreed Basis' as a joint creation appropriate to the post-conflict situation.

"These arrangements are vital to the partnership through which we shall continue to cooperate in promoting restoration and development in Bougainville."

Mr. Avei said his visit to Buka provided a valuable opportunity to explain the Government's concerns regarding the need to ensure that the final political settlement makes a practical contribution to peace building in Bougainville by really improving people's lives and helping to consolidate peace on the ground.

"The growing spirit of mutual cooperation on all sides can be seen in the National Government's offer of a substantial one-off establishment grant to support the autonomous Bougainville government in the early stages and the positive response by Bougainville leaders that they will provide counterpart funding."

Mr. Avei said the meeting enhanced mutual understanding including the part that the National Government will play in the appointment of judges to Bougainville courts, heads of the Bougainville public service, police and CIS and offices which may be established under the future Bougainville constitution.

"I will be making an immediate and detailed report on these and other agreements reached to Cabinet this week," Mr. Avei said. "I will then inform Bougainville leaders of the outcome of Cabinet's deliberations on our joint work -- the 'Agreed Basis'.

He said drafting of the final agreement can then proceed and a proper public signing ceremony will be arranged in Bougainville.

Mr. Avei said officials of the bipartisan National Government and combined Bougainville delegation will re-engage in the next few days to look at the best way of clarifying aspects of national sovereignty in the agreed autonomy arrangements and of tightening up the process by which the autonomous Bougainville government will gradually assume responsibility for an increasing range of powers and functions.

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

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