23 Mar 2005

Francis Ona repeats call for PNG, Australia to quit Bougainville

3:20 pm on 23 March 2005

The head of the United Nations mission on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville, Tor Stenbock, says the secessionist leader Francis Ona may have launched his campaign for election.

Mr Ona came out of hiding in the Panguna No Go Zone yesterday to reiterate his demand in Arawa that Australia and the PNG government quit Bougainville.

Mr Stenbock says a peaceful rally took place at short notice outside his office, with Mr Ona reading out a statement.

Bougainville goes to the polls from late May to elect its first autonomous government.

Mr Stenbock says Mr Ona reiterated his rejection of autonomy and declared again that the UN must recognise Bougainville as an independent nation of Mekamui islands.

He says the occasion, during which he spoke to Mr Ona briefly, was like a political rally.

"Let me say this, that I hope that this would be a start of his campaign to run for office, because that would really be the way to go about this, you know. He should form a political party called the Mekamui whatever and then present his political ideas and then run for office and let the people decide."

Mr Stenbock says he believes two Australians who have not been seen for months and are wanted by police, were in the truck Mr Ona used as a platform.

He says Mr Ona was accompanied by about 150 followers, but has now returned to his area of control where thousands have signed the electoral roll to vote.