The Guardian March 29, 2000


Bougainville:
People running out of patience

The pro-independence Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) is running 
out of patience with Papua New Guinea's indecisiveness and failure to make 
firm commitments regarding a satisfactory political solution for 
Bougainville. The peace process, which was commenced in 1997 after almost 
10 years of war between PNG and Bougainville, is now very fragile, with PNG 
continuing to manoeuvre to gain time and avoid a referendum on the question 
of independence.

Considerable progress has been made since the cease-fire came into force in 
April 1998 and a regional Peace Monitoring Group was established on 
Bougainville along with a United Nations Observer.

The PNG-enforced blockade of Bougainville was lifted, the process of 
restoring basic services and reconstruction has begun, and considerable 
progress made towards reconciliation between Bougainvilleans.

Relations between Boguainvillean leaders and PNG under the leadership of 
Prime Minister Bill Skate improved considerably.

As part of the process, and in accordance with agreements endorsed by Papua 
New Guinea, the people of Bougainville elected a People's Congress 
(government), representative of the whole of Bougainville.

The key questions of the withdrawal of PNG Defence Forces, disposal of 
arms, the exercise of self-determination remained to be resolved  through 
negotiations.

The cease-fire agreement refers to the gradual withdrawal of the PNG 
Defence Forces with the simultaneous disposal of arms by the BRA and the 
Resistance (Bougainvilleans who were co-opted by PNG).

At present the PNG Defence forces are still sitting on Bougainville, the 
BRA still has its arms as well as the Resistance and the only people who 
are standing between them is the Peace Monitoring Group (led by Australia) 
which is not armed.

Negotiations were held last December with the new PNG Government led by Sir 
Mekere Morauta.

During those negotiations the Bougainville People's Congress, which is now 
the Government of Bougainville, and all the groups and leaders in 
Bougainville were united in presenting their negotiating position to the 
Morauta Government.

Political questions

Moses Havini, international representative for the Bougainville Government 
told The Guardian that their position centred around three 
principles.

First, that the highest level of self-government short of independence be 
established in Bougainville immediately.

Second, that under this highest level of self-government, the Bougainville 
Government would have exclusive responsibilities for the full range of 
powers and functions in Bougainville other than agreed essential powers and 
functions that may be reserved primarily to the PNG Government.

Third, and the most crucial point, that a referendum be held as a 
legitimate right of Bougainvilleans on the question of independence for 
Bougainville, at a time to be determined by the Bougainville Government.

Unity on negotiating position

"This is the common negotiating position which we presented to Sir Michael 
Somare [PNG Minister for Bougainville Affairs] and his team in December 
last year", said Mr Havini.

"So we are not talking about a referendum in terms of tomorrow or in three 
years time but further down the track when the people of Bougainville are 
actually ready for it.

"In fact what we said was that the referendum would be held on a date to be 
determined by an autonomous government of Bougainville, after consultation 
with the Government of PNG.

"There would be a number of triggers which would depend on the following 
factors: capacity of the Bougainville administration, progress towards 
reconciliation, the political and economic situation, and the progress in 
the operation of the autonomy arrangement.

"And then, of course the other important issue would be the progress on 
arms disposal."

The referendum would be a yes-no vote on whether the people of Bougainville 
become an independent nation-state or remain within the constitutional 
frame-work of the PNG nation-state.

This was the proposal put to PNG negotiators at the meeting last December.

"In presenting this common negotiating position to Sir Michael Somare in 
December, Sir Michael Somare said to us that he would now present this 
proposal to the Cabinet and, in fact, they were not altogether opposed to 
the idea of autonomy and even considering a referendum and that during our 
second round of negotiations he would come back with an answer to the 
people of Bougainville.

"The second round of negotiations took place in Buka [island north of 
Bougainville island] on March 6, 2000."

Insulting offer

Sir Michael Somare returned with an insulting counter-proposal that offered 
the people of Bougainville no more than a provincial government system that 
is basically even lower than a metropolitan local government council in 
Australia.

"Now, the Bougainvillean leaders saw that as basically six steps backwards. 
What we were offered is even three times less than what the Bougainvilleans 
got in 1975-76, during the first struggle, by way of a provincial 
government system", said Mr Havini.

"It is very provocative. The people of Bougainville are not dumb, are not 
stupid. They know what they are fighting about.

"They know the political system of Papua New Guinea inside out and with the 
question of autonomy they are actually expecting to get something more and 
over what they got in 1975-76."

The Bougainvillean parties were united in their outright rejection of the 
proposal from Papua New Guinea. They later requested a resumption of talks 
which recommenced on March 17 on Loloata Island and in Port Morseby.

They continued until March 23, when an "Understanding" was signed.

Loloata Understanding

The Loloata Understanding, as it is called, provides for a Bougainville 
Interim Provincial Government to be established under PNG law.

This would be followed by the establishment of an autonomous Bougainville 
Government. The functions of such a government are "to be agreed upon" and 
"Bougainville will take some years to exercise many legislative powers and 
functions".

There is agreement to continue negotiations on a political settlement.

There is nothing in the Understanding however, which pins PNG down to a 
fixed timetable or commitment to a level of autonomy or even when autonomy 
might be achieved.

The Understanding is just as non-committal on the key political question of 
self-determination and independence: "Negotiations on a political 
settlement will continue with the Bougainville Leaders".

PNG "acknowledges the aspirations for a binding referendum on independence 
as called for by the Bougainvillean leaders".

Acknowledging an aspiration is a far cry from responding to those 
"aspirations" or even acknowledging them as rights rather than just 
aspirations.

"The parties will address the referendum issue. The parties agree that the 
holding of the referendum may be deferred until after autonomy has been 
implemented and can be fairly and properly judged."

In effect PNG has not committed itself to a referendum in the forseeable 
future or to "autonomy short of independence" as sought by Bougainville.

PNG appears to be buying time with the aim of re-establishing control over 
Bougainville to avoid giving the people of an opportunity to express their 
will.

The PNG authorities hope to break the unity that has been achieved, 
possibly buy off a section of the population and weaken the resolve of the 
Bougainvilleans as expressed by the Bougainville People's Congress.

The creation of a second government by PNG creates difficulties and has the 
potential to sow disunity.

But PNG might be in for a shock, the Bougainvilleans are a determined 
people, determined to become independent and manage their own affairs, and 
after the years of war and human rights abuses by PNG Forces, it may not be 
so easy for PNG to walk back in and be accepted.

Frustration

On Bougainville people are becoming impatient with PNG's failure to make 
advances in the peace process. It remains to be seen how quickly PNG acts 
on the Understanding, or whether it continues to drag the process out.

"Unless speedy legislation is implemented through the PNG Parliament for an 
Autonomous Bougainville Government, over and above what Bougainville got in 
1976, then there is no guarantee that we will ever get away from what has 
been offered", said Mr Havini.

"The people of Bougainville have been fighting now for five decades and 
more consistently in the last ten years for an independent homeland.

"Under international law, indigenous people's rights and the United 
Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not only is this right 
guaranteed under the provision, `the Right to Self-Determination', but also 
the right of the people to enjoy their own economic resources is also 
guaranteed.

"Bougainville is a very resource rich island country and most capable of 
becoming an independent and leading viable nation within the Pacific", said 
Mr Havini.

"We are frustrated."

"Bougainville and Papua New Guinea are still technically in a state of war. 
The BRA Force is now fully and better armed than ever, and has ten years of 
experience of fighting a successful guerrilla war against the Papua New 
Guinea Defence Force.

Cannot rule out war

"They are ready to re-enter war with Papua New Guinea at any time, that is, 
if PNG is secretly inclined that way."

The BRA has raised concerns about recent political statements by out-going 
Australian Peace Monitoring group Commanders, that they were there to 
protect PNG's sovereignty.

"While this is essentially a matter between Bougainville and Papua New 
Guinea, the PMG's role is clearly that of a `neutral peace-keeping' force 
on Bougainville", concluded Mr Havini.

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