PAPUA NEW GUINEA MPS PASS KEY BOUGAINVILLE LAWS

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 28, 2002 – Sydney Morning Herald/AAP)---The war-ravaged island of Bougainville moved closer to long-term peace yesterday when Papua New Guinea's parliament passed legislation that allows for a future vote on independence.

For the legislation to be enacted, the Bougainville peace agreement still has to be signed by United Nations weapons inspectors.

After a tense two-day wait for enough MPs to show up, the two necessary pieces of legislation were passed unanimously, which will buoy the hopes of many international observers including Australia.

As the landmark vote was concluded, a private comment by the Speaker, captured accidentally by a live microphone, seemed to capture the celebratory mood in the house.

"You'd better organize some refreshments," the Speaker told the parliamentary clerk.

It was crucial that the vote be held yesterday because the Parliament sits for only one more day before the June national election, after which more than half the MPs could be ousted.

If the United Nations inspectors meet their targets for the disposal of weapons on the island, yesterday's legislation means Bougainville will be able to have a referendum on independence in 10 to 15 years, and state-like autonomy in the meantime.

The war on Bougainville, which led to a declaration of independence by the guerilla leader Francis Ona in 1993, caused as many as 20,000 deaths through clashes between rebels and the PNG Army, internal civil war, starvation and disease.

For additional reports from The Sydney Morning Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.

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