Bougainville News Alerts this week : Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne visits Bougainville ahead of independence referendum and amid fears #Bougainville independence will open Pacific door for China  

 “I don’t think the exercise of a democratic process in one of our nearest neighbours would be described as a huge problem for Australia.

The referendum is part of a peace agreement that has been under way for some time.

The important things that Australia is focused on is not forming a view one way or the other on the outcome of a referendum in another country, but importantly supporting that wherever we can to ensure a credible, and a peaceful and an inclusive process.”

Australia will work to ensure the integrity of the Bougainville referendum later this year, and won’t cast judgment on the result, Foreign Minister Marise Payne says.

Hear ABC Radio Coverage

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne this week visited Bougainville for a few hours amid fears an upcoming independence vote there could undermine regional stability and provide an opening for China to establish a strategic foothold in what could become the Pacific’s newest nation state.

Report from The Australian

The visit was the first by an Australian minister since a bungled 2015 attempt to open an Australian consulate led the PNG government to slap a ban on Australian officials travelling to the autonomous region.

Papua New Guinea, which fought a decade-long civil war with Bougainville rebels ending in the late 90s, is trying to convince

PNG Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Sir Puka Temu, said Bougainville’s people needed to understand what “cutting the umbilical cord from Papua New Guinea” would mean.

“The revenue for Bougainville is only 20 million kina ($8.6m) per year,” Sir Puka said.

“They will need, according to international studies, at least 900 million kina ($390m) a year to rebuild Bougainville as an independent state.” He said independence would also mean “Papua New Guinea will not be able to be politically responsible for an independent Bougainville state”.

Bougainville’s people will vote on October 17 to either become an independent state or to have greater autonomy within PNG.

There is a widespread expectation that Bougainvilleans will vote in favour of independence in a result that would then have to be ratified by the PNG parliament, where it could face opposition from MPs who fear other provinces could follow.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape has said PNG was “stronger with Bougainville than without” but it would listen to the people of Bougainville “and then consult on options for the future”.

Lowy Institute Pacific program director Jonathan Pryke said the referendum outcome would have strategic implications “thanks to the active presence of China throughout PNG and the broader Pacific”. “Given the new strategic landscape, and not to mention the huge reserves left in Panguna (copper) mine, I would expect an independent Bougainville would have a number of potential international suitors to help them with their financial challenges,” Mr Pryke said.

Nana Buba from New Dawn Reports on visit to Bougainville

The visiting Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne this week met with the Bougainville women Peace builders at the Nazareth Rehabilitation centre, Chabai on the northern tip of mainland Bougainville.

She was very keen to know the work of these peace builders who work in their communities working tirelessly to end violence against women and children and also carry awareness on the upcoming referendum.

Presenters assisted Sister Loraine in presenting what the women peace builders have been doing silently to make the place free from violence and human right abuses in the communities.

The woman who made several comments is the former ABG member representing the women of South Bougainville, Rose Pihei who stressed the need to address traumatized people and also address mental health issues in our communities.

Mrs Pihie said that if these post conflict problems are not addressed Bougainville will be facing a big problem with these people in the future.

She said that the work Sr Loraine  is doing must be supported by donor partners. The women had representatives that came all the way from North,Central and South Bougainville for this meeting.

The team was fully informed on the work of these women peace builders at this meeting.

The Bougainville Affairs Minister, DR. Puka Temu this week  acknowledged the important tripartite relationship that the three countries, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea have developed over the years.

Minister Temu made these remarks during lunch at the Reasons Guest house in Buka town . He said that this significant relationship between our three countries have grown over the years and continue strengthen our friendship.

Dr Temu also acknowledged the members of the Regional Peace Mission contributing countries like Solomon Islands Vanuatu and FIJI for their continued support for peace throughout the Pacific. He said as the Minister for Bougainville Affairs Minister it was only proper to thank these countries for their continued support especially assisting PNG on the Bougainville issue.

Dr Temu said that PNG will continue to work with Australia and New Zealand to complete the Bougainville Peace Agreement with the conduct of the referendum in October and also manage the transitional period after the vote is taken.

The Minister for Bougainville Affairs, SIR PUKA TEMU has told the visiting Australian and New Zealand delegation that since the change of the government two weeks ago, Prime Minister, JAMES MARAPE has announced that the PNG Government is 100 percent behind the implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

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