The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea warned that the referendum on independence in Bougainville may not go ahead. The vote is the last step in an agreement that brought an end to a bloody, ten year civil war on the island. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.
Speaking in parliament, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said the referendum could only go ahead if the conditions laid out in the agreement had been met. He specified the establishment of the rule of law, the establishment of a governmental structure, and disposal of weapons. He then added: “All of those conditions are yet to be met.” The Prime Minister said that the PNG government would help Bougainville meet its obligations, but did not say how.
Civil war erupted on Bougainville in 1988, in large part over the huge Panguna Copper mine, operated by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, the giant Australian-British multi-national. The government of Papua New Guinea was a twenty percent stakeholder and the mine became a vital source of income.
Disputes included resentment of the workers brought in from outside, environmental damage and division of profits. The complicated separatist war left an estimated 20,000 people dead in the biggest conflict in Oceania since World War 2. In 1998 New Zealand helped to broker a series of agreements which lead to the creation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government and guaranteed the referendum now set for next June.
And if Prime Minister O’Neill believes that Bougainville has failed to meet treaty conditions, John Momis, the President of Bougainville, argues that PNG has failed to meet its financial obligations to the island. Momis has vowed to reopen Panguna, under new management.