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From NETANI RIKA, Port Moresby

THE eyes of the world focus on the resource-rich island of Bougainville as the territory prepares for a referendum to decide whether it becomes the world’s newest nation.

Tomorrow (Saturday) the islanders will go to the vote 21 years after the end of a bloody 10-year civil war, to decide whether they want to be independent or part of Papua New Guinea.

An international monitoring mission arrived on the island today (Friday) to keep watch over the process at 800 sites, including two in the neighbouring Solomon Islands

A day before the vote, Autonomous Bougainville Government President John Momis, called for respect and the maintenance of law and order.

“We have worked hard to abide by and efficiently implement the three pillars of the Bougainville Peace Agreement – autonomy, weapons disposal and referendum,” Momis said.

“We must continue to stand united in peace. We continue to fight corruption and welcome good governance.’’

Former Papua New Guinean Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, said the vote must be allowed to take place peacefully, supported by the security forces to ensure transparency and public confidence.

Prime Minister, James Marape, said the non-binding referendum would allow the people of Bougainville to be heard and the result would lead to a complex stage of negotiations with PNG legislators.

More than 15,000 people died when the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the PNG Defence Force fought for control of the island after islanders wanted an end to Australian control over the Panguna gold and copper mine.

The BRA and other militant groups wanted a more equitable distribution of money from mine profits which were controlled by central government in Port Moresby.

Former freedom fighters have disposed off their weapons and promised to participate peacefully in the referendum.

A Pacific peacekeeping mission in 1994 provided troops from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga and Vanuatu under Operation Lagoon to lay the platform for the end to armed conflict.

Hostilities officially ended in 1998 after talks in the Solomon Islands and New Zealand culminated in the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

A tenuous peace ensued until a second Peace Agreement was signed in August 2001 allowing for the immediate creation of an autonomous government and a referendum within 15 years to ensure an enduring peace.

  • Netani Rika travelled to Papua New Guinea funded by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

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