5 major news alerts this week ( July 1- 7) on the Bougainville Referendum
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1 : Ahern urges focus on post-referendum peace in Bougainville ( From Irish Times )
2. Dates for this weeks BRC Bougainville Roadshow announced
3. Bougainville Referendum Commission Website
4. With a projected vote on independence from Papua New Guinea just three months away, suddenly Bougainville is the centre of a lot of activity.
5 : THE Pacific island of Bougainville is moving a step closer to potential independence from Papua New Guinea as preparations begin for a long-promised referendum later this year. (USA NEWS )
1 : Ahern urges focus on post-referendum peace in Bougainville
” Chair of the Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC) Bertie Ahern last week stressed to the UN the need for focus on maintaining peace in Papua New Guinea after an independence referendum in the region later this year.
Mr Ahern met UN secretary general António Guterres in New York to discuss the progress of the peace process in the autonomous region of Bougainville.”
Read full story from the Irish Times
2. Dates for this weeks BRC Bougainville Roadshow announced:
Arawa 9 July 2pm (Christmas Park),
Buin 10 July 1pm (Buin Secondary),
Buka 11 July 2pm (Bel Isi Park).
Information and progress updates from the Chair Hon Bertie Ahern and Commissioners
3. Bougainville Referendum Commission Website
Referendum is one of the pillars of the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA).
The BPA declares that in the Constitution of the Papua New Guinea National Government and the Autonomous Bougainville Government, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB) is guaranteed a referendum on Bougainville’s political future to be held amongst Bougainvilleans 10-15 years after the establishment of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
ABG was established in 2005 and therefore, according to the Constitution, a referendum can be held between the years 2015 and 2020. Both governments will agree upon the official date of the referendum.
Issue of writs – August 16, 2019
Start of polling – October 12, 2019
See Bougainville Referendum Commission Website
4.With a projected vote on independence from Papua New Guinea just three months away, suddenly Bougainville is the centre of a lot of activity.
A crowd of people in Bougainville watching the handover of the agreed definitions for the two questions for the Independence Referendum. The first Greater Autonomy for Bougainville and the other full Independence from Papua New Guinea. Photo: Autonomous Bougainville Government
The vote, which is scheduled to start on 12 October, has already been moved once from 15 June.
Now there is a call for it to be delayed further, with the Bougainville Referendum Commission, which is in charge of preparing the region for the vote, saying more time is needed to ensure the integrity of the electoral roll.
A six-week extension was mentioned.
But the newly appointed PNG Minister of Bougainville Affairs, Sir Puka Temu, said the BRC needed to make a formal request if it wanted to delay the referendum.
“If the BRC thinks they need a little more time because of the credibility issue on the referendum roll then the Joint Supervisory Body (JSB) will be the body that will make the final decision. It is not the national government or the ABG, it is a JSB decision.
“If they say no then that’s it. If they agree then we will inform our people and the basis will be the credibility of the common roll,” he said.
That JSB meeting is set to be held in south Bougainville, in Buin.
The PNG Prime Minister, James Marape, then confirmed the National Executive Council, the cabinet, will hold its meeting there at the same time.
Sir Puka, who has significantly lifted the tempo on Bougainville since coming into the role just weeks ago, said it is vital for all of PNG’s leaders to show their commitment to the referendum process.
Two upcoming reconciliations are to be held on Bougainville at the same time before the referendum.
Sir Puka said a national reconciliation and another involving former combatants were postponed last month because of the PNG government’s change of leadership.
“Our commitment is to never again bring the military ever again onto the island – that’s our commitment.”
Sir Puka said these events will include commitments to dispose of weapons.
He said he came back from a visit to Bougainville two weeks ago with an “enormous level of comfort” that the former militant groups had given their commitment to the peace process.
Sir Puka said there are now teams on the ground preparing for the events at a date that is yet to be announced but expected to be the end of the month.
He said he embraced the reconciliations because of their importance to Melanesian culture and the commitment that the final outcome will be jointly negotiated.
“So as part of that is to guarantee the security of the process and also reconcile and rebuild the relationship amongst all of us – our soldiers on this side and ex-combatants on the other side because that will then remove this cloud of suspicion.”
Meanwhile, at discussions this week a British political scientist with experience in referenda said if Bougainville chooses independence from PNG it’s likely to be some years before it is implemented.
Coventry University’s Matt Qvortrup was in Port Moresby to speak to lawmakers about possible scenarios after the referendum.
He said if there is a clear vote for independence it’s still important that there is what he calls a ‘a just and fair divorce settlement’ – not just one party walking away.
Professor Qvortrup said he’d seen other referenda results implemented in a matter of months, for instance in Czechoslovakia and Ukraine, which said were examples of countries that broke up quickly.
“The more successful ones have taken a little bit longer, so I think the process of independence will probably take, my estimate compared to other cases would probably be up to five years, or even more,” he said.
Also, this week a survey of more than 1,000 Bougainvilleans found people still need to know more about the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the referendum.
One of the key findings of the second Bougainville Audience Study is the need for continuous awareness in the lead up to the referendum and beyond.
The ABG’s communications director, Adriana Schmidt, said the report provided a clear picture of the information needs of Bougainvilleans going into the vote.
She said people want to know more about what the two options – greater autonomy and independence – mean in practical terms, and to understand what happens after the vote.
5 : THE Pacific island of Bougainville is moving a step closer to potential independence from Papua New Guinea as preparations begin for a long-promised referendum later this year.
Whether it can survive as a stand-alone nation is a key question for its 250,000 inhabitants, and for other separatist movements in the Pacific.
The future course of the island could ripple across the region, as the question of Bougainville’s independence will touch on a complicated mixture of business concerns, environmental worries and geopolitical interests stretching from Australia and New Zealand to China, Japan and the United States.
It’s an outsized international role for Bougainville, which lies 900 kilometers (560 miles) east of the Papua New Guinea mainland. The roots of the referendum stem from a bitter inter-clan and separatist conflict that ran from 1988 to 1997, fighting that claimed between 10,000 and 20,000 lives through a combination of violence, disease, poverty and dislocation.
A truce brokered and maintained by regional neighbors that included Australia, New Zealand and Fiji helped restore order, and a comprehensive peace agreement was signed between Papua New Guinea and Bougainville in 2001. The island has had its own autonomous government since 2005.
Bougainville’s people are expected to vote decisively for independence in the Oct. 17 referendum, according to Jonathan Pryke, Pacific Islands program director at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based policy think tank. The vote is not binding and any move toward independence will require agreement from the central government of Papua New Guinea, commonly referred to as PNG.
Most people hope the two sides can find a “Melanesian solution” that will deliver a workable form of autonomy for Bougainville, says Pryke, using the term that describes the region of the South Pacific that includes PNG, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and other island nations and territories.
James Marape, who took over as Papua New Guinea’s prime minister in late May, said on June 14 he would prefer Bougainville to remain part of a unified nation, but would listen to the people’s voice and then consult over future options.
Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Sydney, says the desire for independence in Bougainville remains strong, but from a regional perspective it will be best if the Bougainville people decided to stay in Papua New Guinea. “We don’t need another microstate emerging in the Pacific.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who visited Bougainville on June 19 with PNG’s new minister for Bougainville Affairs, Sir Puka Temu, said Australia will work to ensure the integrity of the referendum and will not pass judgment on the result. Australia is by far the biggest aid donor in the Pacific region, giving $6.5 billion between 2011 and 2017, according to research last year by the Lowy Institute. Most of Australia’s aid goes to Papua New Guinea.
Scars Remain From a Civil War
The Bougainville conflict, in which rival clans on the island fought among themselves and with the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, evolved from multiple issues, including land rights, customary ownership, “outsider” interference and migration, mineral resource exploitation, and perceived inequities and environmental damage associated with the rich Panguna copper mine.
Under the terms of the 2001 peace agreement, a vote on independence within 20 years was promised.
A reconciliation ceremony will be held on July 2 between the central PNG government, the national defence force, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.
Deep scars remain from the conflict, both physical and emotional. Much of the island’s public infrastructure remains in poor shape, educational opportunities are limited, and corruption is pervasive. Clan rivalry and suspicion persists, particularly in regard to land rights and resource development.
Since Panguna closed in May 1989, Bougainville’s people have led a life built around agriculture and fishing. The cocoa and copra industries ravaged by the war have been re-established, there is small-scale gold mining, and potential for hydroelectric power and a revived forestry industry. For now, a lack of accommodation inhibits tourism.
Copper Mine Underscores Doubts over Bougainville’s Economic Viability
Almost 40 years ago, Bougainville’s Panguna mine was the biggest contributor to Papua New Guinea’s export income and the largest open-cut in the world. But the mine, operated by BCL, a subsidiary of Conzinc Riotinto Australia (now Rio Tinto Ltd.), became a focal point for conflict over pollution, migrant workers, resource ownership and revenue sharing, and has been dormant since 1989.
Apart from any foreign aid it may receive, Bougainville’s future prosperity may well depend on whether it can restart the mine, which contains copper and gold worth an estimated $50 billion. But customary ownership claims – land used for generations by local communities without the need for legal title – remain unresolved and at least three mining groups are in contention, which means an early restart is unlikely. Jennings cautions against investing too much hope in Panguna, with remediation costs after 30 years of disuse likely to be high.
Likewise, Luke Fletcher, executive director of the Sydney-based Jubilee Australia Research Centre, which studies the social and environmental impacts of resources projects on Pacific communities, says reopening Panguna would be a long, expensive and difficult proposition. He says the challenge for any mine operator would be developing a project that is environmentally safe, yet still deliver an acceptable return to shareholders and to the government.
Bougainville’s leader, President John Momis, believes that large-scale mining offers the best chance for income generation and is keen both to revive Panguna and encourage other projects. That would require outside investment, which was a factor contributing to the outbreak of violence in the late 1980s. The local community perceived that it was not getting its fair share of Panguna’s wealth.
Rio Tinto gave up its share in BCL in 2016, and ownership now rests with the government of PNG and the Bougainville government, each with 36.4%. Independent shareholders own the remaining 27.2%.
At least two other groups are vying to operate Panguna. Sir Mel Togolo, the BCL chairman, told the company’s annual general meeting on May 2 that continued uncertainty about Panguna’s tenure remains a big challenge. “We will need to work cooperatively with all stakeholders to achieve our objective of bringing the Panguna mine back into production,” he said.
Regional, International Eyes on October Referendum
With doubts persisting about Bougainville’s economic viability if it cuts ties with the central government, the referendum outcome will be closely watched by other PNG provinces pushing for greater autonomy, such as East New Britain, New Ireland and Enga.
Across the region, some parts of neighboring Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are agitating for their own separate identities. In the nearby French overseas territory of New Caledonia, voters rejected independence from France by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin in November 2018. European settlers were heavily in favor of staying part of France, while indigenous Kanak people overwhelmingly voted for independence.
At the international level, Australia will be keen to ensure that whatever the outcome of the Bougainville referendum, stability is maintained in Papua New Guinea, if only to counter China’s growing interest in offering aid and economic benefits as it builds a Pacific presence.
Along with Japan, New Zealand and the U.S., Australia has committed to a 10-year $1.7 billion electrification project in Papua New Guinea. Australia and the U.S. have agreed to help Papua New Guinea redevelop its Manus Island naval base, which sits 350 kilometers north of the mainland and commands key trade routes into the Pacific.
Jennings says Australia would be likely to give aid to an independent Bougainville to try to keep China at bay. “China is everywhere. Its destructive connections co-opt leaderships in a way that doesn’t work out well for people.”
From a strategic perspective, Jennings says it would be best if Melanesia looked to Australia as its main partner on matters of security.
While China gives most of its aid to PNG and Fiji, the region’s two biggest economies, Jubilee’s Fletcher says China giving aid to an independent Bougainville was “feasible.”
Geoff Hiscock is a Sydney-based journalist with a focus on international business