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The National Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea


July 31, 2002



Prime Minister Sir Mereke Morauta, in one of the last decisions of his Cabinet, announced on Monday that the Government will be granting immunity to those persons who were involved in activities related to the Bougainville crisis.

The decision is retrospective to the beginning of the crisis and will extend to August 30 this year.

It covers every group involved in this crisis -- security force members and rebels and resistance fighters -- and excludes only those who might be held accountable for sexual crimes and infanticide.

This paper does not have a problem with the principle of immunity as a catalyst to furthering the cause for peace and normalcy.

We are mindful that the immunity decision follows up on commitments made when the Lincoln Agreement was signed more than four years ago and confirmed when the Bougainville Peace Agreement was signed last year.

This decision has also been taken based on drafts jointly prepared by the National Government and Bougainville technical teams with the active participation of their respective leaders.

It is a necessary pre-requisite for negotiations to advance into stage two -- the weapons disposal plan -- before a referendum can be guaranteed.

But we must sound a warning. What are the implications of such a decision for the rest of a country torn by internal strife and which often in its short history has teetered on the brink of descending into conflicts similar to Bougainville?

The Bougainville crisis is not yet resolved and other provinces and regions want the same kind of autonomy as is being promulgated for Bougainville.

A wrong signal now could be taken as an encouragement for pushes for greater autonomy or worse in many other parts of the country.

It might be argued that Bougainville is a unique case, but remember it is also the first case.

How this conflict is resolved is being watched by others in this country. The nature of the future political structure and how the current conflict is resolved will be of great interest to those for whom secession burns brightly in their hearts. And there are many, let us not forget.

There is another matter that warrants comment too as regards immunity from prosecution and pardon for all those involved.

Do we let the murderers of John Bika go scot-free? He was shot dead in front of his family as he sought to bring peace to a province that was already ticking away towards explosion.

That was not a crisis-related action. It was murder.

Let not the passage of time make us forget his sacrifice. And his killers, if they can be caught, must be brought to justice.

At least let it be known that these killers cannot be pardoned and their crime is unpardonable under whatever circumstances.

The same applies to the killers of Theodore Miriung. He too was gunned down in front of his family, as he stood defenseless.

PNG's own security forces were implicated in a report that was prepared by an international tribunal held under the auspices of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

No action has been taken until now and then it's... wash the killer's hands clean. No it cannot wash. It must not come to this -- peace at all cost, including suspending our principles of justice.

We might say this is a once off and special instance decision, but there will be other similar cases. Once we give in to one instance, we will be forced to give in at other times in future as well.

Bosnia and Kosovo had their share of ethnic blood letting and atrocities but although peace is being forged, ring leaders and war criminals are being identified and brought to justice.

This newspaper does not think that a blanket government edict should absolve all and everyone.

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

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