AUSTRALIA WITHDRAWS FORCES FROM BOUGAINVILLE

SYDNEY, Australia (ABC News Online, June 30) - Australia said the Bougainville peace process has entered a new phase where an Australian military presence is no longer required.

Speaking in Bougainville at the closing ceremony for the Peace Monitoring Group, Defence Minister Robert Hill said Australia would stay engaged, despite the withdrawal of the monitors.

Senator Hill said a new transition team would provide a continued neutral, unarmed regional presence on the island.

He said the transition team does not have the same capacity as the peace monitors to conduct patrols or deliver aid and services.

Senator Hill said the team would help Bougainville's transition from a peace process to autonomous government.

The Defense Minister said since the peace monitors took over Bougainville's truce in 1998, Australia has provided 3,500 military personnel and 300 civilian monitors.

Senator Hill said the participation of monitors from New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu shows the capacity of the South Pacific to deal with security challenges in the region.

July 1, 2003

ABC News Online: http://abc.net.au/news/ 

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