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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (February 7, 2002 – Post-Courier)---Defense Minister Kilroy Genia has reaffirmed commitments for a phased withdrawal of the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF) soldiers on Bougainville.

However, an additional K 1.7 million (US$ 456,280) is still needed to assure that the defense force soldiers remain on Bougainville in the interim.

Mr. Genia said the K 700,000 (US$ 187,880) budgeted for this year was not enough and it was the Government’s obligation to provide funds to make sure that the welfare of the soldiers was taken care while a planned withdrawal continues.

‘’Any decision to withdraw troops from Bougainville will be the prerogative of the Government and will be done in accordance with the Bougainville peace agreement and the operating budget of the PNGDF," Mr. Genia said.

He said while he totally supports Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Moi Avei’s comments that the NEC alone has the last say on the withdrawal, the well being and welfare of the soldiers were of paramount importance to him as the Minister responsible.

The Minister was expressing concern and disappointment over comments by certain sections of Bougainville at the political level based on "rumors" that PNGDF was to withdraw immediately.

The Minister said there were times when soldiers on Bougainville were hungry and begged for food in the past and it was his responsibility to ensure their well being.

Mr. Genia said the conflict on Bougainville had taken everything out of the PNGDF.

He said there was no separate funding for the Bougainville operations.

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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