BOUGAINVILLE MUST BE OUR NO. 1 PRIORITY

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EDITORIAL

The National Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

January 2, 2002

The matter of definite public importance this year is the Bougainville peace process, autonomy and the referendum on independence. Bougainville will have to be the Government's, and National Parliament's first priority when it tackles the question of autonomy during the special session of Parliament later this month.

As the Lincoln Agreement makes it clear -- and as the Government firmly believes -- the political question must be settled, but peace must come first. Peace has lasted during 2001. We must ensure that the province enjoys another peaceful year.

Based on what ministers, including new knight Sir Moi Avei, and officials have both heard and seen for themselves on the ground, the evidence is that the overwhelming majority of ordinary women, men and children in Bougainville agree that peace must prevail. They do so in both word and deed.

The continuing peace process depends mainly on the people of Bougainville, and also on the regional Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) and the United Nations Observer Mission in Bougainville (UNOMB). Both the PMG and the UNOMB support the peace process by helping to build mutual confidence on the ground.

The people of Bougainville are entitled not only to feel secure but to enjoy the same rights and services that we, other citizens of Papua New Guinea, enjoy.

They are also entitled to see that any dissident elements, including hardliners, respect the peace process -- so that unarmed PMG members are able to go about their task of helping to build mutual confidence, and are not forced to restrict their activities, or even leave, as a result of threats or violence.

When Sir Mekere Morauta took office in July 1999 he did say that the challenge of continuing the peace process started during the period of the Skate Government would be among his five major priorities. It remains so today, and is just weeks away from being politically settled.

The foundations of the Bougainville peace process were laid when the Burnham Truce was signed in New Zealand almost four years ago.

The framework for building a permanent home for peace has been provided by the Lincoln Agreement on Peace, Security and Development, which was concluded -- in New Zealand again -- in January 1998.

That Agreement does not just provide for an end to violence and armed conflict but -- as its full name spells out -- sets a wide-ranging agenda of issues for further discussion and cooperative action.

Like the subsequent Agreement Covering Implementation of the Cease-fire -- which brought the peace process home to Arawa, where the Agreement was signed on 30 April of the same year -- it adopts a comprehensive and integrated approach to peace-building.

If the Government has any disappointments about the Bougainville peace process, it is with the slow -- and uneven -- way in which peace building has been proceeding.

However, it has been both pleased and impressed with the positive way in which Bougainville leaders have responded to the challenge laid down by Sir Moi and previous Ministers for Bougainville Affairs, to set aside previous differences and work together to develop a common approach to Bougainville's political future.

The progress made in addressing the many complex issues raised in the Bougainville leaders' common negotiating position can be seen in the various agreed statements which have been issued since -- the Hutjena Record, the Loloata Understanding, the Gateway Communiqué and, the Progress Report recording common understandings reached, differences to be bridged, and issues requiring further follow-up which were identified at technical officers' meetings.

Now that an agreed plan for weapons disposal is in place, legislation on autonomy can be formally moved in Parliament. It was hard to see how any political agreement on Bougainville could be properly implemented while guns and other dangerous weapons remained freely available in the community.

What better way can there be of showing how important the Bougainville peace process is to the nation than for Parliament to do the right thing at the special session later this month on the question of autonomy.

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" target="_blank">(VIKKI@law.uts.edu.au

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