Papua New Guinea foreign minister announces lifting ban on Australians travelling to Bougainville
With the Zhon Bosco Miriona Managing Director from Bougainville Experience Tours travelling to Melbourne on June 18 to market Bougainville tourism to the Australian and International market at the South Pacific Tourism Exchange this positive news for Bougainville was well timed.
“With 50% of our tourist and business travellers coming from Australia this is very good news for all our guest houses, hire cars and tour operators ” Mr Miriona said ” our tourism industry was facing a massive economic impact that would have taken years to recover
The ABC reported last night
“Travel restrictions on Australians travelling to Bougainville have been lifted as of today,” he said in a press release.
Last week, Mr Pato banned all Australian tourist, business and short-term entry visa-holders from entering Bougainville, which is an autonomous region of PNG.
The ban does not apply to work and permanent visa-holders.
There was opposition from Bougainville’s president John Momis who called on PNG to overturn a travel ban on Australians, saying it breached the spirit of the peace agreement giving the island autonomy.
‘Lapse in communication’
The PNG government expressed shock when Australia first announced plans in its budget to open a foreign diplomatic mission in Bougainville.
The government said it learnt about the move via the media, prompting the travel ban.
But Mr Pato said prime minister Peter O’Neill “reaffirmed Papua New Guinea’s position that the government does not approve of the establishment of an Australian diplomatic mission on Bougainville.”
“While the manner in which the proposal was announced was unfortunate, we have discussed the issue with our Australian colleagues,” he said.
“We recognise that there is a serious lapse in communication and we can now move on from this issue.”
However, the Australian Government said the first formal discussion of the proposed foreign mission occurred on May 12.
Foreign minister Julie Bishop said the matter was discussed with PNG officials in December 2014 and again prior to the budget.
According to Mr Pato, Ms Bishop said in a letter to Mr O’Neill, the Australian Government “regrets their miscommunication regarding the proposal for an expanded presence in Bougainville, and for the way the announcement has been reported and portrayed.”
Bougainville is an autonomous part of PNG, but will be holding a referendum in the next five years to consider independence.
The region is currently holding elections for a new president and government that will shape the date and wording of a referendum on independence from PNG.
Rebels fought a decade-long civil war with PNG, sparked by conflict over the then-Australian-owned Panguna mine.
The island was granted autonomy under a 2001 peace agreement and a referendum on independence must be held between July 2015 and July 2020