16 Nov 2005

Bougainville minister says former Fiji soldiers may want to leave PNG illegally

5:12 pm on 16 November 2005

The police minister in the autonomous Bougainville government says nine Fiji nationals accused of training rebels in the province may now be trying to leave Papua New Guinea now their cover's been blown.

Ezekiel Massat says police officers in Bougainville island are watchful in case the men make an attempt to escape.

"We think it's a matter that we're capable of dealing with, we have our regular police service and our auxiliary police who are on the alert. We've had some indications that some of them might want to leave after all this issue had been exposed."

The minister says the regional intervention force in Solomon Islands has been told to be on the watch in case the men try to leave Bougainville to the south.

The Fiji High Commissioner in Port Moresby, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, says he has been in contact by satellite phone with the men on Bougainville.

There were claims that the men entered the country illegally by helicopter, but Ratu Inoke says the men travelled to the province via Honiara and their arrival cards are in the possession of PNG immigration officials.

He says he has requested that the former soldiers withdraw from the province and return to Fiji.

Ratu Inoke says the men have return air tickets which should enable them to leave.

He also says his office has been working closely with the PNG Government and that it is yet to be substantiated that the men were providing military training on Bougainville.