25 Jul 2005

Bougainville secessionist leader Ona dies

3:35 pm on 25 July 2005

The Bougainville secessionist leader, Francis Ona, has died.

Ona fought for the island's independence from Papua New Guinea after a dispute at the Panguna mine forced its closure in the late 1980's.

His death comes only weeks after the island became autonomous at the end of a seven-year peace process.

PNG leaders have expressed sadness at the death of Francis Ona who is believed to have succumbed to malaria.

The UN's representative on the island, Tor Stenbock, says Francis Ona was a respected leader.

A former New Zealand diplomat who was instrumental in organising the Burnham peace talks, John Hayes, says Francis Ona was polite but distrustful and capable of instilling fear.

There is no word yet about the funeral arrangements.