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Australia's support for the Bougainville peace process

I am pleased to announce that Australia will maintain its commitments to the Bougainville Truce Monitoring Group until the end of April 1998 in accordance with the wishes of the parties to the Lincoln Agreement recently signed in New Zealand.

At Lincoln leaders from the factions on Bougainville and the PNG Government agreed that the truce they signed in October 1997 should be extended from 31 January until 30 April 1998 and that the TMG should be requested to remain until that time.

I am particularly pleased that the parties to the Lincoln Agreement have agreed that after midnight on 30 April 1998 a permanent ceasefire will take place on Bougainville.

During my most recent visit to Bougainville last month I was greatly impressed by the contribution being made to peace there by the TMG which is made up of military and civilian personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu. All the parties have also expressed their appreciation for the TMG's work and have understood its importance to the peace process.

The success of the TMG demonstrates the value of regional cooperation and the importance for all the nations of the region continuing to maintain a commitment to solve this difficult problem for which there is no easy solution. I am conscious that external involvement cannot be open- ended, but an initiative like the TMG has proved to be invaluable in supporting the efforts of all those trying to find a peaceful solution. I congratulate all those who have made it possible.

As part of our continuing commitment, we have rotated 19 civilian truce monitors and the Australian Defence Force contingent of around 80 personnel.

In addition to extending our TMG commitment until 30 April I am pleased to announce that, at that request of all the parties, Australia has agreed to host another Bougainville peace meeting in Canberra in March. The meeting, described as a "technical" meeting, will be attended by representatives of all the parties to the Lincoln Agreement and will provide an opportunity for further discussion on the details of the permanent ceasefire and to explore options for what level of external involvement may be possible after the ceasefire comes into effect.

I would like to offer my warm congratulations to those personnel from Australia, New Zealand and the region who have made an outstanding contribution to the success of the TMG to date. I would specifically like to mention the efforts of the original TMG Commander Brigadier Roger Mortlock from the NZDF and his deputy, James Batley from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Both can be well satisfied with the leadership example they set for the TMG.

For further information contact:

Innes Wilcox, 02 6277 7500; 0411 414 694

Kirk Conningham, 02 6261 1555