Tensions between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) have again arisen concerning Bougainville’s independence referendum scheduled for June 2019. PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has informed the national parliament that the criteria established in the Bougainville Peace Agreement of 2001 — which would enable the region to hold a referendum — have yet to be met.
According to O’Neill, the region has yet to establish a solid rule of law, maintain functional government structures, nor has it fully disarmed the island’s militias. However, the ABG has been arguing for some time that the PNG government has failed to live up to its financial obligations to allow the ABG the resources to fully implement the required conditions.
That the PNG government earlier this year had the power cut to government buildings due to unpaid bills, and lost its vote at the United National General Assembly because of a failure to make its annual contributions, could indicate that the ABG may be justified in its complaints.
The guarantee of referendum over Bougainville’s sovereignty was one of the primary requirements of the 2001 peace agreement that was brokered by New Zealand after a civil war that had been waged for most of the 1990s. Were this agreement to be undermined, due to a failure to meet obligations by either party, then there is the potential for instability on the island to again resurface.
The position of Bougainville within PNG has always been an awkward one. Bougainville Island is geographically and ecologically part of the archipelago that forms the Solomon Islands. The archipelago became contested within the colonial endeavours of both the British and Germans. While most of the Solomon Islands came under British control in 1900, Germany maintained its hold on Bougainville Island.
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