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Goff Voices Desire To End B'ville Operation

PORT MORESBY: New Zealand has joined Australia in signalling a desire to end the peace-monitoring operation on Bougainville, as efforts to negotiate a lasting peace drag on, the National reports.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff told the New Zealand Press Association from Port Moresby yesterday that the peace monitors had fulfilled their mandate, which was to monitor a ceasefire between the warring factions on the island.

Thought should now be given to phasing out the operation, despite the lack of progress at a second round of peace talks between Bougainville leaders and the PNG Government.

Mr Goff said that otherwise there was a risk that the peace monitors would be seen as a permanent deterrence to fresh violence and a "security blanket" against the failure of efforts to progress peace.

Under a 1997 peace treaty, the 2,500-strong peace-monitoring group comprising troops from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Vanuatu was stationed on Bougainville.

New Zealand has reduced to its commitment to a handful of its own peacekeepers, but it funds the Fiji and Vanuatu soldiers. New Zealand also has civilians on Bougainville helping in rebuilding the island's infrastructure.

The mission was supposed to end on Jan 31 last year, but peace talks failed to progress as hoped.

The latest talks collapsed last Thursday after Bougainville leaders rejected the Government's proposal for autonomy, warning that the offer of an interim island government would postpone talks and could spark a return to war. More talks are scheduled next week.

Mr Goff said the PNG Government and Bougainville leaders needed to find a way forward.

"It's important that the parties in the discussions know they have to move those talks forward and not simply rely on there being a peace monitoring that can keep the two parties apart if the political discussions fail," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer suggested last week that it was time thought be given to winding down the peace-monitoring operation.

Mr Goff indicated that was New Zealand's desire also. He said a meeting with the commander of the peace monitors in Bougainville on Monday suggested their usefulness was nearing an end.

"It's fair to say that (the commander) did not feel there was a lot more the peace-monitoring group could do," he said.

"They had achieved a ceasefire ... and there was not the threat on the ground, at the present time, of any renewal of fighting.

"They feel they've fulfilled what they set out to do."

New Zealand and Australia were training a new civilian police force for Bougainville, and one possibility was to phase out the peace monitors as the new police force was phased in.

But Mr Goff said no decision would be taken without consultation with Bougainville and PNG, while New Zealand had no intention of precipitating a withdrawal. It would act in concert with the other peace-monitoring partners.

Meanwhile, Mr Goff told reporters after a meeting with Foreign Minister Sir John Kaputin that the talks were frank on a number of issues, and Bougainville was one of the main issues discussed.

While pledging his government's continued support to PNG, he said: "We have not come here to dictate but to provide the New Zealand Government's support.

Sir John said after the meeting that the discussions covered many areas and the most important topic of great concern was Bougainville.

Sir John gratefully acknowledged the continued support of the New Zealand government to the search for peace on Bougainville.

"They, like us, would like to see a lasting political settlement," he said.

On the question of the PMG, Sir John said the government would like to see Bougainville leaders consulted on the issue.

Sir John said New Zealand had also agreed to continue technical assistance to the PNG Defence Force under which New Zealand would continue to provide support in areas of training both domestically and overseas.

The two foreign ministers also discussed issues affecting the region, including the situation in East Timor and Solomon Islands.

Mr Goff also held talks with Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Michael Somare, Planning Minister Moi Avei and Defence Minister Muki Taranupi. He also paid courtesy calls on Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta.

+++niuswire

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