Bougainville awaits independence 20 years after peace agreement

Sydney, Australia, Aug 30 (EFE).- The autonomous region of Bougainville commemorated Monday the 20th anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement between its leaders and Papua New Guinea government, which ended a long armed conflict and paved the way to a still pending independence.

The president of the autonomous region, Ishmael Toroama, said in a Monday statement that this peace agreement “laid the foundation for peace and paved the way for Bougainville to pursue its self-determination aspirations,” according to a statement posted online.

The agreement ended a conflict that lasted more than a decade and left 20,000 dead, about 10 percent of Bougainville’s population, and displaced another 15,000 people to refugee camps in the nearby Solomon Islands.

The conflict began in 1988 when the Papuan Army forcefully repressed indigenous inhabitants of the lands occupied by the Panguna mine, operated by Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto’s subsidiary, taking arms over distribution benefits and environmental impact disputes.

The peace agreement also allowed the holding of a non-binding referendum on Dec. 11, 2019 in which 97.7 percent of voters fell in favor of independence, while 1.68 percent supported remaining under Papua New Guinea as a self-governing region.

To become independent, Bougainville must complete two more procedures: the negotiation between the autonomous region and Papua New Guinea’s governments and, if successful, the Papuan Parliament would have the final decision to accept or reject the agreement.

Toroama said in his statement Monday that the next five years will be “critical” in the independence aspirations, as well as in the process for the transfer of financial powers, among other aspects.

Earlier this month, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape said after conducting a round of consultations with autonomous region leaders that the constitution does not address issues such as independence, although he recognized the results of the 2019 referendum.

“There is no greater challenge for our government or our country than that a part of our nation decides or has decided to separate and be an independent nation,” Marape said in statements collected by Papuan website Loop.

Bougainville, aspiring to become the world’s youngest nation since South Sudan, has one of the richest gold and copper deposits in the pacific, and is currently in China’s crosshairs, which offers the region financial assistance for infrastructure and resource extraction. EFE


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