The Bougainville Complication: PNG’s New Crisis


One of the key peace negotiators in the Bougainville conflict has sounded a harsh warning to New Zealand over its current behaviour toward the island and Papua New Guinea and warned that carpet baggers are moving in. It came from Opposition politician John Hayes who, before he went into parliament, was New Zealand’s high commissioner in Port Moresby and main negotiator in ending the decade old civil war.

In a speech marking 10 years since the peace deal, Hayes assailed the Pacific Cooperation Foundation and the New Zealand political establishment for treating Bougainville as if it were an independent nation. 

“It’s worth keeping in mind that Bougainville is legally – and indeed in every other sense – a part of the entity of Papua New Guinea,” he said. The difference between autonomy and independence was fundamental in international law and diplomacy. The peace deal was about autonomy within PNG. “That is why I find it so puzzling, even disconcerting, that no one from the Government of Papua New Guinea has been invited to be here today. It is hard to see how an enduring peace can be discussed without one of the key players – if not the key player – at the table“.

The final decision on it was to come between 2015-2020 in a referendum. “I wonder if the Pacific Cooperation Foundation, our pre-eminent organisation for developing closer Pacific relationships, should feel a little contrite because of this glaring omission.” Hayes said NZAID, the Speaker’s Office of Parliament and political colleagues were making the mistake of seeing Bougainville as fully autonomous.

“I know they mean well but they often do not understand the consequences of their actions. Their actions are providing inadvertent support for separatism or secession. Outsiders are often insensitive to the need to acknowledge the national framework.” Ambiguous and in some senses misleading messages were being sent.

“This sort of behaviour risks causing damage and distrust. There are very serious issues to confront in the Pacific and we need to face them with a clear focus on what can realistically be achieved in the collective interest of all Pacific people.” Hayes said the Bougainville conflict and its causes have been extensively documented, most often by people who have never been there or actively engaged in the issues. The absolute centre of the Bougainville conflict was a dispute between and within three Nasioi clans over the distribution of royalties from the Panguna mine. 

The dispute involved only one of at least 24 language groups in Bougainville. Those promoting the conflict later used the existing underlying secessionist sentiment to spread the fire of rebellion across the Island.” The genesis of the conflict was in a dispute within and between clans over the distribution of money from mining. Hayes said in Suva in 2006 he ran into a minister in the Bougainville autonomous government who had just received 20 million kina (US$8 million) from a company, Invincible Resources Corporation of Canada, which was to be repaid from net smelter returns when mining resumes on Bougainville.

Hayes said Invincible had a very slim mining history and its major focus has been trying to promote a Russian-made stent or medical tube used in the treatment of men with prostate cancer. Hayes thus questioned how it had money to give the Bougainville government or how it was handled by it. “Activities like this, and this is by no means the only example, are a major challenge to the integrity of our whole region.” He questioned the size of the Bougainville assembly which has 40 members.

“In 1989, the 130,000 people estimated to live on Bougainville were represented by four members of Parliament. The ABG now has 40 members and a large number of officials, as well as the four MPs in the National Parliament. “I do not believe that a government of this size can be sustained by the people of Bougainville. It is simply too big….“This is not a time for complacency, misunderstanding or misguided vision. The leaders of PNG and Bougainville must work together to steadily create small, efficient government which exudes integrity.

“From that, enterprise and community based wealth can grow. I hope the people of Bougainville will turn their backs on the carpet baggers and go forward as united patriots. In this way, they will honour those who gave their lives during the conflict. “The fulcrum needs to move on from the dream of independence back to the reality of patriotism and sound government.”

Article written by: Michael Field

~ by Tavurvur on September 27, 2008.

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