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Thursday, 9 December 1993
Page: 4263

Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the minister seen recent statements issued by the Australian section of the International Commission of Jurists calling upon the minister to take positive action to facilitate peace talks in relation to the conflict on Bougainville? If the minister is aware of such statements, what action has the government taken to bring about such talks and to resolve the situation on Bougainville?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am aware of the comments made by the Australian section of the ICJ. As senators will perhaps recall, the government has had on the table a longstanding offer now to facilitate peace talks among Bougainvillian leaders, provided all parties to the conflict agreed that that offer is acceptable and want to take advantage of it. At last week's ministerial forum meeting at Mt Hagen, I reiterated that position. I made clear our willingness to make available our good offices and our resources to facilitate such talks if it were thought to be helpful by all relevant parties. At the same time, I re-emphasised Australia's quite strongly held view that Bougainville's problems cannot be solved by purely military means and that there is a need for the Papua New Guinea government to take positive steps to bring the various groups involved in the conflict together for talks.

  I should perhaps say in this context that human rights matters were also an important topic for discussion at that ministerial forum. I again reminded PNG ministers of Australia's concern about the human rights aspects of the Bougainville conflict. I encouraged the PNG government to provide full responses to particular allegations of human rights abuses, in particular those relating to the cases of Ken Savia and Brother Leak.

  Papua New Guinea ministers provided assurances of the importance that PNG attaches to the protection of human rights and to the proper investigation of claims of human rights abuses. They undertook to provide further information on the specific cases which had previously been raised with the PNG government. That response was sincerely expressed and I am hopeful that it will produce a little more detail than we have been able to obtain so far. One of the basic problems is that the situation on Bougainville is still not such as to make possible the easy gathering of evidence about a number of these matters.

  The significant outcome of the ministerial forum, which should be of particular interest, I hope, to honourable senators, even if those opposite are not in the slightest bit interested, was the suggestion raised at the forum that an Australian parliamentary delegation visit Bougainville at a mutually agreed time. Papua New Guinea ministers agreed that that idea had considerable merit. I now propose to take this matter up with the Presiding Officers.