An Elusive Peace in Papua New Guinea

A MONTH after the government of Papua New Guinea and secessionist rebels on Bougainville Island signed a peace declaration, implementing the agreement is proving difficult. Communications to Bougainville, an island 600 miles northeast of Port Moresby, the capital, are still cut off. Gun battles reportedly continue. And Papua New Guinea's government is having difficulty finding nations to be part of the multinational task force to monitor the agreement.

The peace agreement, signed on Jan. 24 at Honiara, the Solomon Islands, ended 26 months of violence. But each side accuses the other of violating the agreement, a diplomatic source in Port Moresby said.

``Our commitment stands to do everything to restore goods and services on the island. I speak for the national government. It is not clear if the other side is committed,'' Michael Somare, Papua New Guinea's foreign minister, told a recent press conference.

Moses Havini, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed interim government of Bougainville, says that peace will begin once the multinational task force is established.

Papua New Guinea has asked New Zealand, Australia, and the Solomon Islands to join the force. Neither New Zealand or Australia has made a commitment. The Solomon Islands government could not be reached for comment.

Diplomatic sources say that the Bougainville rebels have complicated the process by asking prospective task force members to accept Bougainville's independence sometime in the future. Without that acceptance, they say they cannot guarantee the safety of task force members.

Australian participation is rejected by the Bougainville rebels, who maintain Australia provided military equipment and financial aid to Papua New Guinea. ``We have to give time for Bougainvilleans to establish confidence in Australia,'' Mr. Havini says.

New Zealand is still considering its own participation, says a spokesman for Jim Bolger, New Zealand's prime minister.

Rebel leaders, meanwhile, appear to be having difficulty convincing their members to lay down their arms as required in the peace agreement.

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