Bougainville consultation period critical, says former combatant

11:11 am on 27 January 2020
Bougainvilleans queue to vote in their independence referendum, Buka, November 2019.

Bougainvilleans queue to vote in their independence referendum, Buka, November 2019. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

A member of the team consulting on Bougainville's future says the post-referendum path must be managed carefully.

An overwhelming majority of Bougainvilleans voted for independence from Papua New Guinea in their recent non-binding referendum.

To come into effect the result must be ratified by the national parliament, following negotiations between the PNG and Autonomous Bougainville governments.

First, a team formed by Bougainville's government will gauge public views on issues the governments should address.

The team, or forum, is comprised of 56 individuals from organisations including women groups, churches, youths, ministers and members of the House of Representatives and former combatants in the Bougainville crisis of the 1990s.

A representative of former Bougainville combatants, Lawrence Matau, said preparation for the negotiations was crucial.

"This is a very critical time now in the political process for Bougainville's independence. We need to maintain peace and keep everyone together, so that we give freedom and enough time for our leaders to consult on the ratification," he said.

Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Mr Matau, a representative of the Unification Core Group which brought together different factions of former combatants, mooted a proposed economic summit for mid-2020 to examine Bougainville's economic viability, a forum which would include private sector investors and foreign interests

He cited names of various foreign mining companies with interests in Boguainville, saying they would be welcome to contribute their views.

"Chinese, Europeans, New Zealanders, Australians, they must come and give us their view of how they see the economy in Bougainville, what is the potential that they can offer us, so our government or our people can be in a better position to decide how do we go about fishing, how do we go about mining, how do we go about what we've all signed up to."

Meanwhile, Mr Matau said Bougainville's president John Momis and PNG's Minister for Bougainville Affairs Sir Puka Temu were in ongoing contact about the process.

"And they both agreed that the consultations will be based on the referendum outcome for independence.

"According to some of the government officials here, the ratification should take place between 2021 and 2022, June."

June 2022 would be when PNG's five-yearly general elections take place.

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