8 Jun 2020

Panguna a priority for latest Bougainville presidential contender

11:45 am on 8 June 2020

Martin Miriori, the older brother of the first Bougainville president, Joseph Kabui, wants the Panguna mine opened as soon as possible.

Bougainville presidential candidate, Martin Miriori.

Bougainville presidential candidate, Martin Miriori. Photo: Supplied

Mr Miriori, who was secretary of the Bougainville interim government during the crisis, later a diplomat and a businessman, wants to bring these skills to the next autonomous government.

He is the latest to enter the crowded race for president in the August elections.

Fully establishing Bougainville's independence, he said, and re-opening Panguna to fund the region's economy are his priorities.

"Because I am a landowner, Panguna is the option that we have for Bougainville to be able to achieve its fiscal self reliance," said Mr Miriori.

"Panguna will fund development but first we have to achieve our political independence."

Contentious issues surrounding the mine, the source of much of the division which led to the region's decade long civil war, can be dealt with at the same time according to Mr Miriori.

The Panguna copper and gold mine in Bougainville was closed down for operations in 1989 at the start of the civil war.

The Panguna copper and gold mine in Bougainville was closed down for operations in 1989 at the start of the civil war. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

December's independence referendum has stirred more interest in the people directly involved, added Mr Miriori, who said it's why he is running for president.

Although his background is in business and banking, during the conflict Mr Miriori was the secretary of the interim government before becoming a diplomat involved in the peace negotiations.

He came well down the field when he ran for president in 2010 but he says now is his time with people encouraging him to run.

"When they look at the Box No 2 where we voted 98 percent [in last year's referendum] they are now looking back to the work that was done to come to that, and I seem to be singled out because of my contribution," he said.

"And the other thing I would like to mention is that if you come here to Bougainville, there is nothing despite the millions of kina that come in."

Meanwhile, President John Momis was late last month stopped from seeking a possible third term as Bougainville's leader, however, reports from the region say there could be more than two dozen contenders.

Formal nominations won't open until after the election writs are issued on 17 June.

After a delay due to the coronavirus crisis the poll is now set to begin in August and run for about two weeks.