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O’Neill defends his preparations for Bougainville referendum

Bougainville-flagMERIBA TULO | Asia Pacific Report

PORT MORESBY - With just a year to go before the people of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville go to the polls to determine their political future, the Papua New Guinean government has defended its handling of preparations.

Prime minister Peter O’Neill said the government had done more for the Bougainville during his term than at any other time.

He said next month’s Joint Supervisory Body meeting between the national and Bougainville governments will be of the utmost importance for the referendum next June.

In parliament, the MP for South Bougainville, Timothy Masiu, asked a series of questions regarding the government’s efforts in support of Bougainville’s preparations for the referendum.

Of particular concern, according to Masiu, was the recent appointment of a Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Bougainville Affairs which he claimed would cause challenges for the region on conducting the referendum.

The prime minister emphasised the steps taken by the national government and Bougainville government to have a chairman of the Referendum Commission appointed as well as on reaching agreement on the referendum questions.

While there have been sentiments expressed regarding possible independence for Bougainville, the prime minister was quick to point out that it would be difficult to let go of the autonomous region, especially at a time when there was need for unity in Papua New Guinea.

The supervisory board meeting to take place in Arawa is expected to iron out several issues relating to the referendum, including the all-important referendum question or questions which will be put to the people of Bougainville.

Meriba Tulo is an EMTV reporter. This story was first published by EMTV News and is republished with permission


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Johnny Blades

On the PM's referral to the need for unity: If Bougainvilleans vote overwhelmingly for independence and the PNG parliament disallows it, wouldn't that make the nation more divided?

It probably would. The fear, of course, is that a denial of the outcome of the referendum could trigger massive civil disturbance in Bougainville. This issue is vexed and Peter O'Neill's recent rhetoric has been quite insensitive - KJ

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