Australia’s deputy prime minister Richard Marles may have bitten more than he can chew. His comments regarding the independence of Bougainville have created more friction and possibly ignited conflict between the island and the Papua New Guinea Government.
Bougainville president Ishmael Toroama has come out firing a second shot and said that their future as an independent sovereign nation is inevitable and no foreign government or foreign leader can dictate to Bougainville the outcome of the Bougainville Peace Process.
“From the outset, let me say it once more within this Honourable House that Bougainville’s future as an independent sovereign nation is inevitable,” he said in parliament.
“There is nothing that can change the resolve of our government and our people from achieving sovereignty as an independent nation.
“Australia has bargained their neutrality in the Bougainville peace process for the sake of geo-political manoeuvring and maintaining control of the Pacific region from their perceived threat of Chinese influence in the region.”
Mr Marles during a press conference said Australia is being neutral in the Bougainville peace process and will let the PNG Government decide what needs to be done.
Mr Toroama said Mr Marles remarks would influence the PNG Government to hold onto power and not stick to the process that will lead to the independence of Bougainville.
“As President of Bougainville, I am not in a position to comment nor speculate on the foreign policy of foreign governments who have diplomatic relations with PNG,” he said.
“Though we do not have foreign affairs powers, countries dealing with Bougainville must understand that our political arrangements are not the same as the other provincial governments of Papua New Guinea.”
Earlier this week when the question was put to Mr Marles about the reaction from Bougainville, he emphasised that Australia remains committed to the Bougainville peace agreement.
“Australia was a witness to the Bougainvillle peace agreement more than 20 years ago. And as such, we are completely committed to the processes contained within the Bougainville peace agreement,” he said.
“Nothing I said was intended to signal any change in Australian policy over a long period of time, in respect of that. The political settlement that will ultimately be reached by all parties to that agreement is one that Australia will obviously support. And that’s where Australia stands. And that’s where we’ve always stood.”
The Bougainville conflict between Papua New Guinea and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army lasted 10 years between 1988 and 1998.
According to a former Bougainville leader John Momis, this was the largest conflict in Oceania since the end of World War II in 1945, with an estimated 15,000–20,000 Bougainvilleans dead.
A peace deal in 2001 allowed for the creation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government and Bougainville’s independence 20 years down the line. That time has now arrived but the PNG Government looks to hold onto power.
Bougainville is rich in minerals including gold and copper and has the ability to sustain its own economy if the chance is given to them.
Mr Toroama and many pro-independence campaigners also feel that development has been limited in the island under PNG and independence would allow them to make a better nation for their people.