15 Dec 2004

UN Bougainville mission backs a PNG government request that it again extend its stay on the island.

5:16 pm on 15 December 2004

The United Nations Observer Mission on Bougainville is expected to receive another extension to remain on the Papua New Guinea island in the run-up to its election of an autonomous government.

A constitution for an autonomous Bougainville is set to be signed into law any day, allowing for elections to be held between April and June.

The Observer Mission has overseen the peace process on the formerly conflict-torn island since July 1998 but was due to leave, after a number of earlier extensions, at the end of this month..

The Mission head, Tor Stenbock, says the PNG Government is asking the UN to grant another extension, for about six months, and the Security Council will consider this next week.

Mr Stenbock says the 9-person mission needs more time to complete weapons destruction, and has an important role to play in the upcoming elections.

"If any of the parties to the peace agreement asks whether the conditions on the ground is conducive to the holding of elections, the UNOMB is the one who has been mentioned in the peace agreement to make an opinion on that. And as the only international presence ... that's also taken into the constitution of PNG, so it's quite important."

Mr Stenbock says election time would be a natural point for the mission to end.