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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Jan. 4) – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has expressed a deep sense of loss and extreme sadness at the passing of former Prime Minister Sir William Skate.

The Prime Minister cut short his holiday after he heard the tragic news and is arranging to return to the country.

Sir Michael had written to Lady Rarua Skate, widow of the late Sir William Skate, expressing "a deep sense of loss and extreme sadness".

"The late Sir William has contributed much to the political development of Papua New Guinea and will leave behind a huge vacuum in our legislature that will be hard to fill," Sir Michael said.

"His trademark ‘straight shooting’ frankness during parliamentary debates on issues of public importance underlies his innate desire to see concrete actions taken to resolve problems and his distaste for procrastination," he wrote.

Sir Michael said Sir William’s legacy in relation to the Bougainville issue is well known.

"Many will claim credit for the resolution of the Bougainville conflict but none will take away the fact that he paved the way for the peaceful resolution to the bloody conflict on the island," he said.

The Prime Minister said that Sir William was a staunch champion of the have-nots and downtrodden people; a manifestation of his less than privileged upbringing.

"His compassion for and ability to understand the grassroots’ needs is second to none. Papua New Guinea is poorer without this guiding voice and compassion," Sir Michael said.

He also said that for Sir William to overcome all odds, against his less than fortunate background and become Prime Minister of this country is an indication of how hard he worked at what he believed in.

"On a more personal note, the late Sir William was a true friend whose counsel I valued greatly. When I was Opposition Leader and political friends were hard to come by, I found in him much needed support and great source of comfort.

"As Prime Minister during this term, I drew great strength in the knowledge that I had his support. May the Good Lord protect you and your children and also give you strength during this difficult period," he told Lady Rarua in the letter.

Deputy Prime Minister Sir Moi Avei also expressed sadness, saying Sir William was very passionate about issues affecting the grassroots people, and was not afraid either to speak his mind on issues of provincial and national importance, either in or outside of Parliament.

"The NCD and Central province, and indeed Papua New Guinea, have certainly lost a very capable leader," he said.

January 5, 2006

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