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Bougainville independence referendum targeted for mid-2019

Joint Supervisory Body in session, May 2016JOHN MOMIS

The Joint Supervisory Body of Papua New Guinean and Bougainvillean leaders established to oversee implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement met in Port Moresby on Friday chaired jointly by prime minister Peter O'Neill and president John Momis - KJ

THE meeting achieved outcomes of great significance involving preparations for the Bougainville referendum which must be conducted before mid-2020.

In a series of meetings over recent months, a joint team of officials has developed proposals for the referendum.

These include establishing an independent agency to conduct the referendum; a target date of 15 June 2019 for the referendum; a detailed work program of activities and associated funding; and a set of basic messages for an initial joint awareness program.

The Joint Supervisory Body endorsed these proposals.

I'm very pleased with these decisions. Although the date for the referendum cannot yet be finally set (because of various legal steps required to be taken first), it would be impossible to plan the referendum without a target date.

With that date now agreed, we can plan the steps required to hold the referendum and the time and the funding and personnel needed to carry out each step.

Equally pleasing is the national government commitment to provide the funding needed to carry out referendum preparations beginning with the 2017 national budget.

The steps necessary to establish the independent agency that will conduct the referendum have been agreed. The two governments are committed to it being established before the end of 2016.

The PNG Electoral Commission and the Bougainville Electoral Commission are already cooperating closely in developing the agreement, administrative arrangements and the charter required by the peace agreement for establishing the independent agency.

The joint agreement on these and related issues is a huge step forward. It demonstrates once and for all the total commitment of the Papua New Guinea government to full implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the associated constitutional provisions.

As a result, there should no longer be any doubt amongst Bougainvilleans about whether or not the referendum will be held.

I know some factions and individuals have retained weapons because of suspicions that the national government would refuse to hold the referendum. But with the historic JSB decisions on 20 May, those suspicions must end. As a result, all Bougainvillean groups must now work towards achieving complete weapons disposal.

I now call for full disposal of weapons by the Me'ekamui Defence Force elements, the armed groups associated with Noah Musingku at Tonu, and various former Bougainville Revolutionary Army and Bougainville Resistance Force members and groups that have retained weapons.

Only with full weapons disposal will Bougainville be referendum­ready. The Bougainville Peace Agreement requires that the referendum be free and fair.

Without weapons disposal, there will inevitably be doubts about the referendum being free and fair. There are already Bougainvilleans saying that they will not vote if weapons remain. The legitimacy of the result will always be in doubt if weapons remain.

I am impressed by the clear commitment of the prime minister and other ministers to implementing the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

Once again, Papua New Guinea is providing a lead to other countries that have experienced violent conflict. It shows that the commitment to achieving peace by peaceful means, evident ever since the Bougainville peace process began in 1997, continues to flourish in Papua New Guinea.

I salute the Prime Minister for his very positive contribution to this historic outcome.


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