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Radio Australia Asia Pacific Melbourne, Australia October 5, 2001

A new report released by the Australian government estimates that up to 20,000 people died during the decade-long civil war on Bougainville.

The report -- "The Bougainville Crisis - An Australian Perspective" -- was written by the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and his Department. It says Bougainville has dominated and distorted Australia's relations with Papua New Guinea.

[Presenter/Interviewer: Graeme Dobell, Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Canberra; Speakers: Alexander Downer, Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister; Moi Avei, PNG Minister for Bougainville Affairs.]

DOBELL: The study starts with the estimate that the Bougainville conflict, from 1989 to 1998, killed more than 15,000 people, perhaps as many as 20,000. At one point, about 70,000 people out of a total population of about 200,000 were displaced from their homes. The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer.

DOWNER: "Maybe three times as many people died in the Bougainville conflict, either directly or indirectly as a result of the conflict, than have died in Northern Ireland since 1969 as a result of the troubles there.

"In terms of human life, this is a much more serious issue than the Northern Ireland conflict. There aren't any television stations in Bougainville. It doesn't seem to appear enormously to the media as an issue. But in terms of humanity, it has been a bigger problem than the Northern Ireland conflict.

"I think it's very important to understand that. And as I say in the book, this is the worst civil violence that has been in our part of the world since the end of the Second World War -- since the end of the Pacific War."

DOBELL: Mr. Downer says Bougainville so poisoned relations between Canberra and Port Moresby that sometimes there was no productive interaction, particularly in the last 18 months of the Julius Chan Government before the Sandline mercenary affair.

Papua New Guinea's Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Moi Avei, agrees that Bougainville smothered PNG's relationship with Australia. And he says the peace agreement signed on August the 30th is a chance for Papua New Guinea, as well Bougainville, to make a new beginning.

AVEI: "Yes, the Bougainville crisis has been like an albatross around our necks. It has sapped the energy of a young country. It has divided the country. We have had to put resources that we could ill-afford into Bougainville.

"The 30th of August therefore heralded a new beginning for us in Papua New Guinea."

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Provided by Vikki John VIKKI@law.uts.edu.au" target="_blank">(VIKKI@law.uts.edu.au

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