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Travel Restrictions on Bougainville

Travel restrictions in place

By Gorethy Kenneth, Postcourier - 10 Nov 04

AUSTRALIANS and other foreigners intending to travel to Bougainville will have to be cleared by Foreign Affairs and the Bougainville Affairs Office in Port Moresby.

The process will affect many genuine tourists, business delegations and any person travelling across for authentic reasons.

Papua New Guinea Consul-General in Brisbane Paul Nerau told the Bougainville Update that the process approved by the Government and Bougainville Affairs Office has already been established and in operation.

Mr Nerau said this was because of the controversial issue of the Australian Citation jet owned by Andrew Reid that landed at the de-commissioned Aropa airport near Kieta.

Mr Nerau said he warned the Australians who approached him about travelling to Bougainville early this year about the status of Aropa airport and the situation on the island.

He said he had left several messages with the Bougainville administration immediately after the approval - and claimed his messages were not taken seriously and not returned.

"They insisted to go to Bougainville despite my warning to them about the situation," Mr Nerau said.

"I granted approval on humanitarian grounds, because they were very keen. They said they were going to do site studies to build hospitals.

"And because of this we have now reached a decison that all clearances will have to be done by the Foreign Affairs Secretary and the Office of Bougainville Affairs in Port Moresby. This will definitely affect many of our genuine travellers but that's the way it will be now because we still have to treat Bougainville with caution."

Mr Nerau, a Bougainvillean, also said he had been approached to help "bail out" the stranded Australians in the country.

"I told them the law would catch up on them and it happened," Mr Nerau said.

Jet owner Andrew Reid, commanding pilot Peter McGee, James Nessbit and Jeffery Richards are still in the country after the Civil Aviation Authority ordered the jet grounded because of their landing at Aropa in late September.

Mr Nerau said he saw copies of letters from a Mekamui government official in Bougainville.

When asked why he approved the trip when he knew Mekamui was not officially recognised, Mr Nerau said he gave the green light because they said they were going to do studies on sites to build hospitals.

Stay away- DFAT

PORT MORESBY: The Australian Government has warned Australians to stay away from a rebel "no-go zone" on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) yesterday upgraded its travel advisory on Bougainville and said Australians travelling to the troubled island should notify authorities in the provincial capital Buka on arrival.

It said Australians should avoid travelling to a "no-go zone" around the abandoned Panguna gold and copper mine in the mountainous area of central Bougainville that has been controlled by secessionist rebels since the late 1980s. Several Australians and other foreigners have travelled to the Bougainville "no-go zone" in recent months.

But DFAT said landowners in Bougainville had requested that outsiders stay away from the mountainous area in central Bougainville, around the old mine. It said the Bougainville administration had warned Australians visiting the "no-go zone" controlled by secessionist leader Francis Ona that they would have their passports seized once they tried to leave the island.

An Australian and a New Zealander last month surrendered their passports to PNG police after allegedly travelling into Ona's "no-go zone", which the rebel leader has renamed as the Kingdom of Mekamui. A police spokesman said Australian Perry Wheeler and New Zealander Simon O'Keefe, who both live on Queensland's Gold Coast, handed their passports to police in October, but no charges were laid against them.