Bougainville poll supports independence
The people of Bougainville have voted overwhelmingly in favour of becoming independent from Papua New Guinea.
97% of the Bougainville population endorsed the vote promised as part of a 2001 peace agreement to end the devastating civil war in Bougainville.
The Peace Agreement says that the PNG and Bougainville governments will now have to ‘consult’. The referendum is non-binding and the final say rests with the PNG parliament. There is no timeline for this process.
Central to the conflict that led to the vote was Bougainville’s rich resources. The autonomous region was once home to the world’s largest open-cut copper mine at Panguna, which provided up to 45 per cent of PNG’s export profits.
Many felt mining profits were not being shared fairly between PNG and Bougainville — or even between different landowner groups at the mine site — and pollution from the Panguna operation also created tension.
The civil war that subsequently broke out between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, Papua New Guinean forces and other pro-PNG militias in Bougainville saw the mine shut down in 1989.
The mine has remained closed despite attempts to reopen it in recent years.
The voting was closely watched by several groups of observers, including a team of 11 sent by the Australian Government and led by the former Australian MP Jane Prentice, who has her own very personal connection to the region with her husband having been involved in the 2001 peace arrangements and conflict resolution.
In Bougainville, there was much jubilation at the result despite the long process still ahead.