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BPC decides to go for Bougainville independence

The National - 17 June 1999


PORT MORESBY: The Bougainville People's Congress (BPC) has resolved to pursue independence for the people of Bougainville, its President Joseph Kabui said yesterday.

He said following its meeting last week, the BPC has mandated his negotiating team to proceed with negotiations with the national government on a ''political settlement'' for Bougainville.

The BPC meeting, the second since the election of members to the Congress, was held in Arawa, Central Bougainville from the 10-13th of June.

Mr Kabui said the date for negotiations has yet to be fixed, and the choice of venue was still being discussed.

He said the Bougainville people believe that the Bougainville peace process has at last reached a stage where there is genuine unity in Bougainville.

''That unity makes it possible for negotiations to be held now. The congress (BPC) agreed that the attitudes of both the Bougainville factions and of the Papua New Guinea Government have changed significantly. As a result, conditions are conducive for discussions to be entered into on the political status of Bougainville.

"With the people's mandate, preparations for negotiations are proceeding both at the leaders' and officials' level in Bougainville this week. I believe the same arrangements are happening at Waigani," he said in a statement.

Mr Kabui said the BPC meeting in Arawa had deliberated on political options, mainly the question of independence, to be used as the basis for negotiations with the PNG government.

"There was general support for ultimate independence for Bougainville. However, the BPC has agreed that the question was one of process. The issue was how best to achieve the long term goal through the process of negotiations rather than through warfare.''

''The congress recognises that there are many practical difficulties limiting immediate progress towards independence. But the Bougainville leaders are confident something can be worked out.''

Mr Kabui said the BPC supports an open door policy and transparency in the negotiation.

In another development, Mr Kabui said the BPC is opposed to the move by State Negotiator Sir John Kaputin inviting individuals, factions, groups and the general public to make submissions to the National Government on a Bougainville package as stipulated in the Matakana and Otakaina Understanding.

He said all submissions to the National Government from Bougainville on the special package would have to be channelled through the BPC as the single voice for the people of Bougainville and no one else.

Mr Kabui said all options and negotiations would be handled by his negotiating team, as agreed to in the Arawa meeting.

He said the BPC wants the Bougainville position on the political question to be protected because through the Congress unity will be maintained.

He added that congress wants to involve all senior Bougainville leaders in the negotiations, and has authorised him to invite the four Bougainville MPs and Francis Ona to join the negotiating team.

Mr Kabui also called for a review of the Matakana and Otakaina Understanding the interest of unity in Bougainville in light of these developments.

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