29 May 2002

PNG cabinet expected to decide on a bill granting Bougainville ex combatants amnesty from war crimes

10:52 am on 29 May 2002

An Amnesty and Pardon Bill for ex-combatants who fought in the Bougainville war is expected to be presented to the Papua New Guinea cabinet within the next few weeks.

The Bougainville Peace Coordinator, Peter Sohia says cabinet will decide on the amnesty bill within the first weeks of June, just before PNG's general elections.

He says there has been opposition from community and women's groups about the bill as it pardons offences against civilians.

Mr Sohia says ex-combatants can still be prosecuted for civil crimes, as the Lincoln Agreement, which started the Bougainville Peace process, outlines what the amnesty covers.

"What really is covered by the amnesty that we're talking about is war related offences say if I was a BRA and I fought with the Papua New Guinea defence force and I killed one or two soldiers then I'm covered by this amnesty. If during the process if I did crimes and I didn't take any orders from either the BRA, the Papua New Guinea defence force or the Resistance then it's not covered."

Peter Sohia says the bill will speed up the weapons disposal programme as ex combatants have been slow in surrendering arms because of fears of legal prosecution.

Last year, the PNG parliament approved the Bougainville Peace Agreement which grants Bougainville autonomy and an eventual referendum of independence but that will not be actioned until the UN is happy with the number of firearms collected.