NOOSA – In a statement that will send shock waves through Papua New Guinea, Australia and beyond, Bougainville’s president Ishmael Toroama yesterday declared the autonomous province must achieve independence by June 2025.
Toroama revealed the position of the Autonomous Bougainville Government on its political future at a summit with PNG prime minister James Marape that began in Kokopo yesterday.
The summit follows the 2019 referendum in which 97.7% percent of Bougainvilleans opted for independence from PNG.
The two governments are meeting to consult over this outcome as required by the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the PNG Constitution.
“When both governments signed the Bougainville Peace Agreement in August 2001, we committed ourselves to a deferred 15-year referendum period,” Toroama said.
“This was to allow time to our people, on both sides, to heal the wounds of the conflict and ponder over what we need to find as a final solution for Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.
“For those who fought for independence, we wanted independence at that time of our (2001) negotiations over the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
“But in all fairness to our people, we were prepared to wait 15 years to allow our them to have their say through a free and fair referendum vote at some later stage,” he said.
Toroama said the referendum results made it clear Bougainvilleans wanted independence and rejected the option of greater autonomy.
For 16 years they had “lived, seen, worked and experienced” the slow progress under the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
He said autonomy or any future arrangement short of independence was not an option.
“Our position on the future political status of Bougainville is clear, and that is independence,” he said.
Toroama laid down the June 2025 as the deadline for independence, which would follow general elections throughout Bougainville.