BOUGAINVILLE MINISTER MUM OVER FIJI VISIT

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SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, March 29) - A Bougainville government official who had earlier claimed he was in Fiji to meet the wives of former Fijian soldiers in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, has distanced himself from those comments.

Papua New Guinea Minister for inter-governmental relations and Bougainville affairs Peter Barter told national television yesterday he intended to persuade the wives of the former Fijian soldiers to influence their husbands to leave Bougainville and return home.

However, when interviewed today, Sir Peter acknowledged that he might have breached Fiji’s sovereignty by bypassing the Foreign Ministry and declaring his intentions to the media.

He declined to speak on the issue saying he was in the country for ongoing discussions between the European Union and the Pacific government ministers and was representing the Papua New Guinea Finance Ministry in these talks.

However, Sir Peter said he would take this opportunity to "clear the air regarding the Fijians in Bougainville" and lobby with the Fiji government for their immediate removal.

The former Fiji soldiers traveled to Bougainville late last year to reportedly help train security guards for self-styled king Noah Musingku, who was responsible for a failed pyramid scheme on the island.

Attempts by the Fiji Government to pull the men out resulted in only three returning, leaving the other five behind.

The five later sent a letter to Foreign Affairs saying they understood the risks they were taking and chose to stay on the island.

Reports later said the men were being offered as much as FJ$2 million [US$1.1 million] each for their work on the island.

Sir Peter earlier said he wanted to hold discussions with Foreign Affairs to lay out options available to both countries in resolving the issue.

March 30, 2006

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