PNG MINISTER ABORTS ‘RESCUE’ MISSION TO BOUGAINVILLE

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, May 25) – Papua New Guinea Mining Minister Sam Akoitai yesterday abandoned his mission to rescue the five Fijian ex-soldiers holed up in Tonu in Bougainville.

The plane the minister was traveling in — the government’s official aircraft— had to be diverted back to Port Moresby, when it was nearly halfway to Buka.

Reports were that the minister was coming and was expected to land in Buka at 8am and was to have continued to Tonu on a chartered helicopter to meet the Fijians.

The move by the minister was very unpopular when people in Bougainville learnt about it, and many had gathered at the airport in Buka to meet the minister.

It could not be ascertained why the minister abandoned his trip.

The Autonomous Bougainville Government wants the Fijians to surrender to them so they can face the law for their actions in Bougainville.

Local police in Bougainville are adamant that the Fijians be taken into their custody once they are sighted.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Women’s Network against Violence against Women has expressed support for the call by Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency for the Autonomous Bougainville Government not to use force to resolve the law and order problems perpetrated by Me’ekamui and followers of ‘conman’ Noah Musingku.

"We fully support the call by Helen Hakena, executive director of Leitana Nehan and other concerned groups that the government should explore other means of resolving the issues they are faced with instead of immediately resorting to armed conflict," Shamima Ali, chairperson of the Pacific Women’s Network against Violence against Women said.

Ms. Ali said direct confrontation could only exacerbate the situation and there was a risk of Bougainville going down the track which it had just emerged from in recent years.

"We all know of the turbulent times that Bougainville had been through and the last thing we want is for there to be a repeat of historical events. We are aware of how women’s organizations struggled to bring about peace during and following the conflict in Bougainville and so we understand fully their fears of things flaring up again," Ms Ali said.

"An armed conflict would mean that a lot of innocent people in Bougainville will suffer. We understand that the government would feel challenged at the moment given the current unrest being fuelled by various factions but we call upon the government to continue to seek other options for bringing about peace for the sake of their people," she added.

The Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency is an active member of the Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women.

The women marched last week and presented a petition to Bougainville government president Joseph Kabui, calling for peaceful resolution of the problem, and for Musingku to surrender to authorities.

May 26, 2006

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