23 Nov 2022

Expert fears PNG cooling on Bougainville independence

11:37 am on 23 November 2022

An Australian academic believes the Papua New Guinea Government might be preparing to walk away from the idea of independence for Bougainville.

By 2027 the autonomous Papua New Guinea region expects to be an independent state, after 97.7 percent of Bougainvilleans backed it in a referendum in 2019.

Work has been underway with both governments consulting on the way forward, but last month Bougainville accused Port Moresby of dragging the chain.

Anthony Regan, from the Australia National University, has spent many years working alongside the Bougainville Government.

Anthony Regan

Photo: Supplied/ Australian National University

He said prior to this year's national election and with the Prime Minister, James Marape, as Bougainville Affairs Minister, the government had not indicated which way it was leaning, but that may now be changing.

"Since the election the Prime Minister is no longer the minister [of Bougainville Affairs]. He's appointed a young lawyer from the Highlands to be the minister.

"So I think the indications are that PNG is moving towards perhaps saying no."

Concern at Marape's call

Regan said Bougainvilleans are also concerned at Marape's call for all the people of PNG to have say on the independence or otherwise of Bougainville.

He said for Bougainvilleans the only test for what was required was their resounding referendum in 2019, as per the Peace Agreement.

He said they feel it will give the prime minister ammunition to say no.

"He will be able to say the people don't want Bougainville to be independent, so I can't support independence. They see it as an excuse to get away from dealing with the constitutional expression of Bougainville opinion."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs