PNG govt urged not to derail Bougainville referendum mandate

9:47 am on 20 December 2019

Papua New Guinea's government has been warned not to deviate from the mandate of Bougainville's independence referendum.

Young Upe men casting their votes in the Bougainville Referendum.

Young Upe men casting their votes in the Bougainville Referendum. Photo: Bougainville Referendum Commission

A 97.7 percent majority voted for independence, although to come into effect, the result must be ratified by PNG's national parliament.

With talks between the Bougainville and PNG government's to start next month, PNG's prime minister has asked Bougainvilleans to consider a middle way where their "desire for self rule is not harmed and PNG's desire for national unity is embraced".

But James Marape's suggestion of something less than full independence has prompted a warning from the former Bougainville Interim Government leader, Martin Miriori.

"Especially with a 98 percent support for independence, we will not compromise. We cannot negotiate outside of the result. We cannot talk about economic independence (as raised by Marape) because that was not what our people voted for," Mr Miriori said.

Noting the prime minister's call for unity, Mr Miriori offered assurance.

"We can have good relations as neighbours of course, there to the west (PNG) and then of course Solomons to the south, we can maintain good neighbourhood relations, but as separate nations."

While giving Mr Marape credit for finally getting PNG government support for the referendum earlier this year, Mr Miriori said the prime minister's speech in Arawa wasn't entirely well received.

"Delivering his speech, it was not to the face of the people, they started to walk away," Mr Miriori claimed.

"PNG cannot simply use the non-binding clause as an excuse to ignore the wish of our people being expressed through the ballot box and walk away.

"This is simply not being honest with our people, and could be very dangerous indeed," Mr Miriori warned.

PNG's Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Sir Puka Temu, said he would not bring the referendum result to the parliament for deliberation until after extensive consultations, which he advised there was no time limit for under the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

Sir Puka has urged the international community not to interfere with the consultation process.

But Mr Miriori warned that the government should not mislead or deceive the international community by derailing the clear mandate of the referendum result, saying the world would be watching closely as to what PNG does next.

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