PNG agrees to Bougainville peace talks
By Pip Hinman
A military stalemate on Bougainville and mounting international pressure have forced the Papua New Guinea government to announce that it will open Bougainville to independent observers and support plans for a Pan Bougainville peace conference. The Bougainville interim government has welcomed the September 29 announcement and reiterated its call for an immediate cease-fire.
Mounting international concern at PNG's blockade of the island and its confinement of Bougainvilleans in detention centres (euphemistically described as "care centres") has put pressure on the Wingti government. According to PNG foreign minister John Kaputin, Bougainville will be opened up to observers from the European Community and African, Caribbean and Pacific nations.
Mike Forster, spokesperson for the Bougainville Interim Government and representative to the United Nations, urged an immediate start to the preparatory meetings with the North Solomons Peace Negotiating and Monitoring Committee. "All the ground work has been done. It just remains to set the location and date", he said.
"The Interim Government also welcomes Australia's offer to host the preparatory meetings in Cairns and hopes they will issue a formal invitation immediately. Time means lives."
Forster said that the announcement had been welcomed by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army leaders. General Sam Kauona says that they are still sceptical about PNG's commitment to peace and once again called on PNG to agree to an immediate cease-fire as an act of good faith and to build trust on the ground.
"PNG might have made the announcement, but we want to see the implementation. All Bougainvilleans are committed to peace", said Forster.
There is widespread support for the moves towards peace. Justice Michael Kirby, president of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), called on all governments in the region to actively and publicly support the peace initiatives. The ICJ has consistently called for a negotiated settlement.
The chair of the ICJ special committee on Bougainville, Tony Simpson, said that Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, foreign affairs Minister Gareth Evans and minister for Pacific affairs Gordon Bilney, should make a public statement in support of the peace initiatives. "They should offer the necessary practical logistical support to insure that all parties are able to attend and effectively participate in the conferences", he added.