SOLDIERS RECALLED, WITHDRAWN FROM BOUGAINVILLE

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (February 1, 2002 – Post-Courier)---Security Forces on Bougainville have eight days to vacate the island.

The signal to leave was issued by headquarters in Port Moresby, soldiers in Buka confirmed yesterday.

By Sunday this weekend, Bougainville will have no Defence Force personnel present.

Soldiers on border duty at Taorato and Zune islands left for Loloho on Wednesday.

They will join the Loloho forces, the last of the PNGDF batches on mainland Bougainville to "evacuate" to Buka today.

They leave for Rabaul tomorrow.

On Sunday, soldiers in Buka should join them in Rabaul, where they will establish a "forward camp" ready to depart for Port Moresby.

PNGDF Commander Brigadier General Peter Ilau and other senior officers were not available for comment last night.

Chief Secretary Robert Igara was briefed late yesterday, according to a Prime Minister’s Department source.

The withdrawal of security forces on the island is contradictory to an agreement, which states that PNGDF should be present on the island when all weapons are collected, disposed and contained safely.

Resistance forces in Buka yesterday warned that lives of Bougainvilleans will be at risk if the soldiers leave the island completely.

They said this is because they feel PNGDF still has a duty to maintain a presence and the recent agreement signed in Arawa in August last year -- that under the agreements there are provisions that the weapons disposal plan commence in areas where there are security forces present.

They also claimed that the presence of the Peace Monitoring Group and the United Nations Observer Mission on Bougainville is not enough.

Yesterday, in Buka, a vehicle belonging to a foreign organization was confiscated by disgruntled men believed to be from the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

The resistance force claims this activity will escalate if the Government is not careful.

By late yesterday, when the Post-Courier visited the Buka Camp site, soldiers had started to dismantle the tents ready for "evacuation."

BRF chairman Hilary Masiria, who was present, expressed anger and dissatisfaction in the manner in which the whole situation was handled.

"I am totally angry that PNGDF/Government have seen fit to issue such an order for the immediate withdrawal of the security forces," Mr. Masiria said.

"We do not want a repeat of 1990 where mass withdrawal by soldiers resulted in a lot of mishaps, destruction and killing on the island.

"The decision is hasty and inconsiderate and I call on the Government to rescind the withdrawal orders."

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

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

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