24 Mar 2005

Bougainville ready to arm ex-combatants if needed for security as election approaches

8:10 pm on 24 March 2005

The Governor of the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville says the province is prepared to arm ex-combatants if necessary to guarantee security ahead of upcoming elections.

This follows the surprise appearance of secessionist leader Francis Ona who came out of hiding this week for the first time in 16 years.

At a peaceful rally in Arawa, Mr Ona demanded that Australian police on Bougainville leave immediately and that the PNG Government also leave.

But the Bougainville Governor, John Momis, says the Bougainville Peace Agreement binds the PNG national government to work with Bougainville to promote good governance.

Mr Momis says this is to be done in cooperation with donors such as Australia.

He says greater security may be needed ahead of the first elections for the autonomous government, in two months' time, and it's not too late to arrange this.

"I'm saying that should the need arise we are prepared to arm our ex-combatants and police but as yet we have decided not to go along that path, and we are maintaining regular talks with the Mekamuis."

Governor Momis says the arms of an ex-combatant, Thomas Tari, are still being held and these could be used if needed to help keep the peace.