From NETANI RIKA on Buka, Bougainville
A MONTH-LONG ban on alcohol sales and consumption remains in force as the autonomous region of Bougainville decides on its political future.
Local police kept close watch over polls yesterday (23/11) as islanders decided whether to become independent or remain part of Papua New Guinea with greater autonomy.
The situation remained calm with no reports of violence at the 21 polling venues which opened on the first day of the poll.
PNG Prime Minister, James Marape, has called for a peaceful vote and vowed that the people of Bougainville will be heard.
“Together we will deliver a lasting peaceful solution that reflects the desires of all Bougainvilleans and Papua New Guineans.’’
Bougainville Referendum Regional Police Support Mission officers from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands were deployed to help the Royal PNG Constabulary.
But crowds were quiet and orderly despite delays in some polling stations.
All venues closed at 6pm and there will be no polling today (Sunday) with sites due to re-open at 8.30am tomorrow (Monday).
The alcohol ban will continue until after the end of polling on December 7 in an attempt to ensure a peaceful and trouble-free process.
Inspector Simione Tamanisau of the Fiji Police Force said there were no disturbances and voters were well-behaved throughout the island. “It was a good day,’’ Tamanisau said.
“The people were happy and acted in an orderly manner from the morning until polls closed and that was despite the heat and the wait some had to endure.’’ A ban on alcohol would have an affect on local islanders alcohol treatment centers in the area.
There were reports of singing, dancing and feasting at two polling centres as the referendum took on a festive air. More feasting and dancing is expected throughout Bougainville from tomorrow.
• Netani Rika travelled to Bougainville with the support of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat