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Bougainville Peace Process Enters New Phase

BOUGAINVILLE PEACE PROCESS ENTERS NEW PHASE

The Bougainville peace process entered a new phase today as Australia and other regional countries withdraw their military personnel from the Island after a successful five year peace monitoring operation, Defence Minister Robert Hill said.

Attending a special ceremony in the provincial capital of Arawa to mark the end of Operation Bel Isi II, Senator Hill said significant progress had been made since Bougainville's fragile truce in 1997.

The Australian-led Peace Monitoring Group had overseen the implementation of the cease fire and supported the United Nations Observer Mission in implementing weapons collection and containment, an essential step towards achievement of an autonomous Bougainville government.

"Australia has been a strong and consistent supporter of the peace process having committed over 3,500 military personnel and 300 civilian monitors to both the PMG and the Truce Monitoring Group since late 1997", Senator Hill said.

"As a result, over 90% of registered weapons are now contained under UN supervision."

Senator hill said effective cooperation with regional partners and the professionalism of the unarmed men and women of the PMG were essential to its success in contributing to peace and stability on the island.

"The peace process is now at a stage where a military presence is no longer required", Senator Hill said.

"However, Australia is not walking away from Bougainville. Together with New Zealand, we are deploying a civilian Bougainville Transition Team to succeed the PMG which will work closely with the local community and the UN to monitor and help support the peace process."

The Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary of the Department of Defence, the Chief of Army and former commanders of the PMG joined other dignitaries at the ceremony, including representatives from New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu and the United Nations.

MEDIA NOTE: Images will be available from Defence Public Affairs.

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