Bougainvilleans voted for independence

The numbers of the Bougainville self-determination referendum are in and, as anticipated, the majority of voters voted for Bougainville’s independence from Papua New Guinea – a long overdue independence. Here are the numbers:

Photo by Bougainville Care Foundation Facebook

The History 

The history of West Papua and Bougainville are similar in all aspects. After the World War II, Bougainville leaders demanded their independence, but the discovery of Copper and other minerals on the Island led so much pressure from Australia and eventually led to the inclusion of Bougainville in the territory of Papua New Guinea, which was – at the time – administer by Australia. From the UNPO page:

In 1960, Australian geologists found copper in Naisioi land, Bougainville. The transnational company Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), a joint venture of the Australian based companies Conzinc Rio Tinto and Broken Hill Corporation, began prospecting in 1963. No environmental impact study was carried out.

In 1968 elections were held throughout Papua New Guinea. Bougainville called for a referendum on secession, but the Papua New Guinea government did not honour this request. Self-government was given to Papua New Guinea on December 1973 and full independence from Australia on September 1975.

On the first of December 1975, two weeks before Papua New Guinea gained its independence; Bougainville unilaterally declared its independence emphasising its wish to remain separate from the new state of Papua New Guinea.

Bougainville appealed to the United Nations, but without success. A year later, negotiations with the Papua New Guinea government resulted in an agreement for limited autonomy as a province of Papua New Guinea. Bougainville was to have its own Provincial government. Many people complained that the people did not democratically elect the Bougainvilleans on the delegation that signed the 1976 agreement.

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The Civil War

On December 1, 1988, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) launched an out guerilla warfare against the PNG Defense Force (PNGDF). Two years later, the head of the BRA,  Francis Ona, declared Bougainville an independent state, but the PNG government rejected it and sent in soldiers instead. The conflict escalated to an all out war between the two groups, which went on for almost a decade.

The death of many PNG soldiers and destruction of the mining on Bougainville forced the PNG government to look elsewhere for military support.  The prime minister of PNG, Sir. Julius Chan, concocted a plan to wipe out the BRA and other factions on the Islands of Bougainville using  Sandline mercenaries  from the London-based Sandline International – a private army made up of former soldiers, most of them special operators from all over the world. An agreement was signed between the government of PNG and representative of the Sandline International on January 1997. The term of the agreement was hidden from PNGDF and the general public.

Days after the agreement was signed, Sandline mercenaries arrived in PNG masquerading as military advisors and consultants, while their deadly weapons were on their way. However, the plot was exposed leading to a revolt within the PNGDF ranks led by Brigadier Gen. Jerry Singuruk, who arrested these foreign mercenaries and locked them up. The Australian government intercepted heavy military equipments headed for PNG under this secret deal, and pressured the PNG government to terminate the agreement. Days later,  Sir Chan’s resigned followed by the deportation of the Sandline mercenaries from PNG. 

Jerry Singuruk

In 1998, the newly elected prime minister of PNG Bill Skate signed the ultimate ceasefire agreement between the BRA and the PNG government. The agreement also led to the permanent closure of the Panguna Copper mining and all other operations on the Island, and the withdrawal of PNGDF soldiers from Bougainville.

Further negotiations with the BRA and Bougainville leaders led to the formation of the Autonomous Bougainville, but the people wanted more. They lobbied endlessly for their independence till now.

Independence Referendum

This year (2019) the PNG government granted the people of Bougainville what they had been fighting for since the early 1960s – an independence referendum.

More than 90% of the population voted for their independence in this election, which saw voters throughout Bougainville and Bougainvilleans in Australia and the Solomon Islands voted overwhelmingly to breakaway from Papua New Guinea. The Governor General of Papua new Guinea is expected to endorse and stamp the result of the election and declare the independence of Bougainville.

It is a happy and an emotional day for Bougainvilleans.

An emotional Bougainville woman reacting to the result of the election

The Indonesian government must grant West Papua the right to vote for their own self-determination as the French government did in New Caledonia and the PNG government. We want our own country, and we are confident that the majority of West Papuans want their own country! President Widodo better man up and do the right thing.


Source: Bougainville Care Foundation Facebook Page