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Tuesday, 30 August 1994
Page: 557

Senator LOOSLEY —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer the minister to the two-day peace conference held last week in Honiara between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the government of Papua New Guinea. Is the minister able to report to the Senate on the peace conference and the prospects for agreement at the meeting scheduled between the parties in the Solomon Islands for next Friday? How is the Australian government assisting in the peace process? Does the minister envisage involvement of Australian personnel in the proposed South Pacific peacekeeping force to oversee the settlement process?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Australian government very warmly welcomes the revitalisation of the Bougainville peace process, which has occurred in the context of the meeting between senior Papua New Guinea government officials and a delegation led by the BRA military commander, Sam Kauona, in Honiara, which took place last Friday and Saturday, 26 and 27 August.

  The meeting agreed to continue the peace dialogue at ministerial level on Friday next, 2 September, in Honiara. The joint press statement that was signed by Mr Kauona and the secretary of the PNG Prime Minister's department, Mr Brown Bai, on the outcome of their meeting, said that the two sides had in fact agreed on an agenda for peace to take to the Friday meeting. They agreed that the agenda for the ministerial meeting should include an immediate cease-fire and a declaration of peace, introduction into Bougainville of a regional peacekeeping force, reconciliation and compensation, lifting of the blockade of Bougainville, pardons and amnesties for members of the BRA, as well as plans for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the island and an agenda for a Bougainville peace conference involving all the concerned groups on Bougainville—all matters that were the subject of recommendation by the parliamentary delegation led by Senator Loosley and matters that, if capable of being brought to agreement, will be music to all our ears.

  The question of the political status of Bougainville was not raised at the meeting last weekend. There does appear to be a clear recognition among negotiators that the primary issue should be the restoration of peace and normalcy to Bougainville.

  My PNG counterpart, Sir Julius Chan, is reported to have said, in announcing the breakthrough on the weekend, that he intended to be at Friday's talks regardless of the outcome of the parliamentary vote now taking place in Port Moresby for a new Prime Minister. I am not sure in what capacity he will be attending, but he has said that he will be there.

  The Australian government trusts that, whatever the outcome of developments in the parliament this week in Port Moresby, the opportunity now presented to build a peace agreement for Bougainville will be pursued by both sides with the same seriousness of purpose which they have clearly brought to their meetings in the past few days. In that respect, I do want to pay special tribute to the commitment shown by Sir Julius Chan, by the BRA leadership and by our Solomon Islands colleague, Deputy Prime Minister Francis Saemala, in making possible the meetings which are now taking place.

  As to the last part of the question, Australia remains ready, as I have said in this place before, to play a supportive role in facilitating a peaceful resolution provided all parties agree that Australia's assistance would be helpful. I have already mentioned the fact that we have provided the Solomon Islands government with some small financial assistance to help it facilitate the peace process. I also said in this place a few days ago, on 24 August, that we would be prepared to assist a peacekeeping force on Bougainville, not in a way that would involve the deployment of substantial numbers of ADF elements; but, rather, it is a matter of supporting and facilitating moves by providing a venue or some other logistical support, provided again that all parties agree that would be useful. At this stage, no formal request of any such kind has been put to us.

  All I can say, finally, is that we are all very gratified that the fighting, which in recent days has followed the move into Panguna and which has resulted in death and injury on both sides, does not seem to have impeded the negotiations. We have long taken the view, as Sir Julius Chan himself has recently reinforced, that a military solution to this conflict is simply not possible. We believe that all resources should now be devoted to carrying through, in the way that has been foreshadowed, a successful negotiation for a lasting peace settlement.