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Bougainville voted en masse for independence from Papua New Guinea

bandera bouganville1Some 97.7% of the more than 206 thousand voters on the referendum gave their “yes” for the independence of the autonomous region of Bougainville from Papua New Guinea, so this small island of just 9300 square kilometers of the southern Melanesian archipelago could become the youngest country of the world, the 196th of those recognised on the United Nation’s list.

However, the results of this referendum, which was the principal point of the peace treaty between Bougainville’s Revolutionary Army and the new Guinea government signed in 2001, aren’t binding. Now, the authorities of the autonomous region and the Papuan government will go to the negotiation table and, furthermore, the Parliament of Papua New Guinea will hold a final vote on whether they will accept the agreement or not. We from the Organization of the Unrecognised United Nations hope that the popular wishes will be respected and that Bougainville’s independence will be recognised.

Bougainville is situated at 640 kilometers from the Solomon Islands and up until now was considered a province of Papua New Guinea. This region went from being a German colony in 1885 and then, as a result of the First World War, Bougainville was under Australia’s administration. This status was maintained for six decades, until 1975.

In 1988, a fierce civil war between the Revolutionary Army and Papua New Guinea broke out, extending for ten years and causing 15 thousand deaths. In 1998, a peace agreement was reached, which included a referendum that was finally carried out this year. Throughout these decades, the Bougainville region had a certain autonomy, but its citizens, whose culture is very different from Papua New Guinea, desired independence and they demonstrated it with the massive turnout through the ballot box.

Bougainville can count on valuable mineral resources, above all copper. In Panguna’s open pit mine there are an estimated 5.3 million metric tons of copper and somewhat more than 500 thousand kilograms of gold for which the estimated value is 60 thousand million dollars. Bougainville not only arouses interest in its resources, but also for its strategic geographical position, since it is the crossways between the Pacific Ocean and the Southeast Asian, between the Australian Port of Brisbane and the American military base on Guam.

Therefore, the division hasn’t been well-accepted by the Papua New Guinea government. If the government rejects the independence on the weight of the results of the referendum, the Islanders will certainly proclaim independence unilaterally. This decision will be upheld by nearby countries, like China.

For the Bougainville regional President, John Momis, the referendum’s results gives them hope. “If we work together the result will be good and final. And, more important, it will generate a lasting peace,” he asserted. Several analysts foresee that the Parliament of Papua New Guinea will reject the results, because if they recognise their independence it could generate a “contagion effect” in other regions and islands in the archipelago who also reclaim their fair right to independence.

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