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Funeral for Bougainville leader

Joseph Kabui (image from July 1997)

A state funeral has been held in Papua New Guinea for the first president of the autonomous region of Bougainville, Joseph Kabui.

Mourners packed the cathedral in Port Moresby to honour Mr Kabui, 54, who died on Saturday of a heart attack.

Regional leaders have paid tribute to the late president, who helped end years of conflict in Bougainville.

Separatist groups battled PNG government troops there until a UN-brokered settlement in 2001.

Autonomy deal

Bougainville is an island off the eastern tip of PNG.

In 1989 a dispute between local people and a mining company over alleged environmental damage escalated into a brutal war of independence.

Map
Separatist rebels fought PNG soldiers and foreign mercenaries for almost a decade. Thousands of people are thought to have died.

Under a UN-brokered deal signed in August 2001, the two sides agreed that Bougainville should have greater self-government and eventually a referendum on independence, within 10 to 15 years.

Mr Kabui, a former separatist leader, became president in the first elections to be held on the island in June 2005.

In a statement, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said that Mr Kabui had played a "key role in restoring Bougainville to peace following the bitter conflict on the island".

"He played a central part in reconciliation between the rival groups on Bougainville and in peace negotiations with the government of Papua New Guinea," his statement said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, described Mr Kabui as a "skilled mediator and peacemaker who had a genuine interest in the future of his people".

Lawmaker John Tabinaman has been named as acting president until polls are held, PNG daily The National said.


SEE ALSO
President elected in Bougainville
06 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
PNG island vote tests peace deal
21 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Downer upbeat on PNG rescue plan
15 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Papua New Guinea 'to implode'
14 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Papua New Guinea
24 Mar 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Papua New Guinea
17 May 05 |  Country profiles

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