Pacific Beat

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Peace Talks
Inching Toward a deal on Bougainville
People broke their spears to welcome peace three years ago when the factions in Bougainville's decade-long civil war signed a ceasefire on the Papua New Guinean island. If only making the peace last were so easy. Since then, it's been tiptoe diplomacy, distrust and backpedaling. "It has dragged on beyond what one would have expected," says Ron May, a senior fellow at the Australian National University's School of Asian & Pacific Studies. But at week's end it looked as though tenacity might yet pay off, after the P.N.G. Cabinet -in what Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta called a "truly historic" decision-endorsed a proposed peace package. So is it time to chill the champagne?

Not yet, say those who have followed the negotiations. Cabinet approved the plan but only in principle-it wants modifications. That's where fresh trouble could lie. While Minister for Bougainville Affairs Moi Avei said Cabinet has agreed to the main elements-disposal of weapons, autonomy and a referendum on independence-that's not all Bougainvilleans were hoping for.

"The government is basically saying, Trust us, we'll set up the timetable. But trust is a fairly scarce commodity at the moment," says May. Even if the Bougainvillean leadership accepts it, the modified package will have to satisfy P.N.G.'s Parliament, where some M.P.s resent the island province's "special treatment." And rebel leader Francis Ona remains the wild card-a powerful reminder for Bougainvilleans of the hardline alternative to peace.

Still, Australian foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer is hopeful. A spokesman hails "a very significant step toward the settlement of the dispute," though he concedes that "negotiations on these last points could be difficult." To support his argument that the world too readily ignores Bougainville, Downer often points out that more people were killed during Bougainville's war than in Northern Ireland. A convincing settlement would draw the world's attention. But the international Peace Monitoring Group, led by Australia since 1999, has no plans to strike camp. No one is ready to pop the corks just yet.
-Lisa Clausen

Island Hospitality
Nauru-Style Diplomacy
When nauru went to the 31st pacific Islands Forum in Tarawa, Kiribati, last October, its official delegation included independence activists from Indonesian-ruled Irian Jaya (West Papua). This year Nauru is the host of the forum, which starts Aug. 14. But it has barred the secessionists from attending. Nauru President Rene Harris said the "bitter divisions" between independence factions could obstruct forum proceedings. The ban is good news for Indonesia, attending for the first time as a post-forum "dialogue partner," and for Australia, which backs Indonesian sovereignty over the province. But the decision could still prove troublesome: the forum also includes the Melanesian nations of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, which have previously shown strong support for their West Papuan cousins.
-Leora Moldofsky

Penguin Protection
Nest Rooms
Penguins are creatures of habit. Wearing dinner suits on all occasions is only the start of it: like blinkered vacationers, they insist on returning to the same breeding grounds year after year. For the Little Penguins of Burnie, Tasmania, reaching their favorite spots now entails waddling across a busy highway, a football ground, an old landfill and a car park.

Burnie residents have decided it's time to save the penguins from their own persistence. The city council has fenced off a kilometer of foreshore and installed the first of 50 cosy burrows; six will have peepholes through which visitors can spy on birds nesting under discreet red lights. The viewing chamber will be part of a new penguin center with changing displays, lecture

areas and bird-watching hides.Project coordinator Michelle Foale says the penguins may be "a bit disoriented" by the fence and new burrows. But chances are that they'll soon grow to like their new beachside hotel-and keep on returning there, year after year.
-Elizabeth Feizkhah