Bougainville News: “Large-scale Mining and Risks of Conflict Recurrence ” new research



Abstract Research on conflict resolution suggests that the significant risk of conflict recurrence in intra-state conflicts is much reduced by political settlements that ‘resolve the issues at stake’ between parties to the conflict, and that in conflicts involving grievances about distribution of natural resource revenues, such settlements should include natural resource wealth-sharing arrangements.

DOWNLOAD: Bougainville :Large-scale Mining and Risks of Conflict Recurrence  here ANU Regan Bougainville Research

Author: Anthony J. Regan (see Bio Below)

This article shows that the Bougainville conflict origins involved far more complexity than natural resource revenue distribution grievances, and that the conflict itself then generated new sources of division and conflict, the same being true of both the peace process and the process to implement the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA).

As a result, the BPA addresses many more issues than natural resource-related grievances. Such considerations make it difficult to attribute lack of conflict recurrence to particular factors in the BPA.

While the BPA provisions on wealth-sharing address relations between the Papua New Guinea National Government and Bougainville, moves by the Autonomous Bougainville Government to explore possible resumption of large-scale mining has generated a new political economy in Bougainville, contributing to new tensions amongst Bougainvilleans.

Research Conclusion

On the basis of this case study of Bougainville, I conclude that natural resource distribution issues were a significant factor, amongst many others, in the origins of the conflict. In addition, it was a factor that aggravated many other factors.

Moreover, many other divisions, sources of conflict and actual conflicts developed as a consequence of the dynamics of not only the conflict itself, but also of the peace process, and the process of implementing the BPA. Indeed, the tensions developing over mining related issues since 2005 are emerging as part of the dynamics generated by implementing the BPA.

These are largely tensions internal to Bougainville. As a result, there is limited utility in the natural resource revenue distribution arrangements in the BPA, developed mainly to respond to the contribution of natural resource distribution issues to conflict between Bougainville and PNG. On the other hand, natural resource distributions certainly were a significant source of conflict both between PNG and Bougainville, and amongst Bougainvilleans.

It was entirely reasonable for those negotiating for the BPA to include provisions intended to respond to the issues that had divided PNG and Bougainville in the 1980s, by giving the ABG power to determine mining policy and law for Bougainville, and to receive the major part of mining revenues. But it was too difficult for them to tailor arrangements in 2001 that could realistically respond to natural resource distribution issues that had divided Bougainvilleans in the 1980s (mainly issues related to the inequitable distribution of the limited natural resources revenues then available to Bougainvilleans).

In giving effect to its new right to make mining policy and law, the ABG has inadvertently helped generate a new political economy in Bougainville, where new outside interests in alliances with significant Bougainvillean interests, are engaging in a struggle for a significant degree of control over resource revenues and mining powers. These developments have ensured that the main divisive issues relating to natural resource distribution are no longer between PNG and Bougainville, but are instead between Bougainvilleans (as even the outside interests have no leverage without Bougainville partners).

The Bougainvillean negotiators for BPA did not include provision on dealing with such new sources of internal Bougainville tensions related to natural resource distribution, not only because they were not anticipated, but also because it would have been virtually impossible to do that at the time.

Rather, their key assumption was that by establishing a strong and legitimate autonomous government, thereby empowering “Bougainvilleans to solve their own problems, manage their own affairs and realize their own aspirations”, and with “sufficient personnel and financial resources … to exercise its powers and functions effectively”,41 there would be a Bougainville government body capable of developing policy broadly acceptable to all interests, and of dealing with disputes between Bougainville interests when they do arise.

But at present, the ABG still has limited capacity, and developing appropriate mining policy and law takes time and resources, and implementing it effectively takes more. Some of those attacking the ABG have strong interests in the ABG remaining weak. Their increasingly strident attacks on the ABG are being made for the clear purpose of getting control of revenue and power.

There is a real political and economic struggle taking place, and the eventual outcomes are as yet far from clear. One irony here is that the ABG is seeking mining revenue in order to build the capacity needed to achieve either real autonomy or independence, when there are now risks of serious tensions and disunity that could undermine Bougainville’s prospects for achieving either goal. There are particular risks here given the ongoing presence of armed factions in Bougainville. In these circumstances, there is an urgent need for the international community and the activist community to recognise where the real tensions and dangers of conflict lie.

Whilst the current tensions concerning natural resource distribution are mainly within Bougainville, there are still possible sources of dispute between PNG and Bougainville. One concerns possible difficulties in negotiating distribution of mining and other tax revenues additional to the recurrent grant should any future large-scale mining project result in those revenues being sustainably higher than the amount of the grant. In relation to issues about the Panguna mine’s future, tensions could arise over various issues if in fact BCL were to be permitted to return, including over any move by PNG to expropriate Rio Tinto’s majority equity in BCL, and over any difference that might occur over the ABG’s entitlement to have the PNG 19.3 per cent equity transferred.

Turning, finally, to the risk of conflict recurrence in Bougainville, we can clearly set to one side the BPA provisions on mining. The real questions now concern whether a strong and legitimate ABG can emerge that can manage the many sources of tension and conflict inherent in the circumstances of post-conflict Bougainville, including those internal tensions concerning mining.

The difficulties for the ABG in managing such tensions are not small. They include, in particular, the situation of marginalised youth, as we have seen, in so many ways so similar to the situation in Bougainville in the late 1980s. The history of the conflict from 1988 demonstrates that sources of anger in such a significant marginalised group can be unleashed in unexpected ways, especially where contributed to, or aggravated, by natural resource distribution issues. Discussing two natural resource related insurgencies in Nigeria, political geographer Michael J. Watts said:

The energies unleashed among a generation of marginalized youth is astonishing; the reservoirs of anger is [sic] now very deep having been filled by the waters of resentment over many decades. That the resentments can and have been channelled into all manner of claims, aspirations and practices (complex mixtures of greed and grievance) the borders among which are labile and porous should surprise nobody.

If the struggle over control of mining in Bougainville continues, without the ABG’s authority being accepted, the outcomes will be unpredictable. All points of tension and conflict involved in or arising from this struggle are likely to be intensified by the approach of first, the ABG general election, and second the referendum on independence, and by the intersections between the political and economic struggles associated with those processes, on the one hand, with the struggles over mining.




About the Author Anthony Regan is a constitutional lawyer who specialises in constitutional development as part of conflict resolution. He has worked as a lawyer, policy adviser and researcher in Papua New Guinea for over thirty years, and is currently a Fellow with the State, Society and Melanesia program at the Australian National University. Formerly an adviser to Bougainville parties during the Bougainville peace process, Anthony is now an adviser to the Autonomous Government of Bougainville.


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