Bougainville votes on self-reliance from Papua New Guinea

Bougainville votes on self-reliance from Papua New Guinea

The Pacific island chain of Bougainville has begun voting in a long-awaited referendum on self-reliance from Papua New Guinea( PNG).

More than 1,000 people waited on Saturday early morning to cast their tallies at one ballot station in the primary city of Buka, as others formed makeshift choirs that stomped through the streets, waving self-reliance flags, blowing bamboo pipes and chanting in chorus.

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” I am so happy,” stated 54- year-old Olitha Mokela. “I am going to rejoice and the bamboo band must play and I’ll dance and go and vote.”

About 207,000 Bougainvilleans are registered to vote and decide whether the Melanesian islands will become the world’s most recent nation. Their choice is between full self-reliance or higher autonomy within PNG.

Surveys will stay open for two weeks to make sure those in remote villages have a say, with an outcome expected in December. Supporters of complete self-reliance are anticipated to win easily, although without dependable opinion polls, a surprise is constantly possible.

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The vote caps a2001 peace offer that ended a harsh decade-long war between Bougainville rebels, PNG security forces and foreign mercenaries. Approximately20,000people were eliminated in the battling, with thousands more displaced from their houses.

Some said that days of heavy rain preceding Saturday’s vote were a sort of” baptism” for a neighborhood that still clearly keeps in mind the discomfort of conflict.

” Numerous people combated,” said23- year-old Jessica Ota, who was born as the war still raged.

If independence is gotten, she stated, those lost in the crisis” would not have actually passed away for nothing”.

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The1988-1998 war had its roots in a struggle over earnings from the now-shuttered Panguna copper mine, which at one point represented more than40percent of PNG’s exports. The mine is approximated to still hold more than five million tonnes of copper and 19 million ounces of gold- worth billions of dollars at existing market value.

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Who controls that wealth is most likely to be vital in identifying whether a newly-born Bougainville succeeds.

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Independence for Bougainville could quickly make the islands a brand-new front in the
fight for impact
[Ness Kerton/AFP]

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If citizens do choose self-reliance, the decision would require ratification from the PNG Parliament, where there is stress and anxiety that Bougainville could set a precedent and spur other independence movements within the varied country.

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However rejection would risk rekindling former feuds and destroying the peace procedure.

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” While many are anticipating an overwhelming elect self-reliance, what that would search in regards to constructing an economy and breaking away from Papua New Guinea isn’t entirely clear yet, “Al Jazeera’s Nicola Gage, reporting from the PNG capital,
Port Moresby, said.

” Another action before that however will occur here in the PNG Parliament, where the government likewise needs to authorize any result.”

John Momis, Bougainville local president, warned excited voters on Saturday that the referendum was only one action in a long process and advised patience.

” We ought to not rush things, we must take our time to make sure an excellent outcome,” he said, adding that a final outcome “might be 5 years” away.

But in an indication of hopeful cooperation with the national federal government, Momis was accompanied to the polling station by Puka Temu, PNG’s minister for Bougainville affairs.

” The celebratory spirit around this specific day, I think it shows the maturity of our management and the maturity of the people in Bougainville,” Temu stated.

Reconciliation

Preparations for the ballot were tranquil, and in recent weeks once-sworn opponents have participated in tearful reconciliation ceremonies, where arrows were snapped to symbolise completion of a vicious dispute.

” There’s been huge investment in terms of awareness-raising to make sure that the expectations of the citizens be managed, to ensure that the understanding of the process be clear,” stated Gianluca Rampolla, the United Nations resident coordinator in PNG.

New Zealand is leading a global unarmed police contingent for the vote, backed by fellow witnesses to the 2001 peace contract: Australia, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Because French explorer Louis de Bougainville arrived on the palm-fringed archipelago more than 200 years ago, control passed in turn from Germany to Australia, Japan and the United Nations prior to administration was handed over to Port Moresby.

But the territory has actually traditionally shared a closer affinity with the neighbouring Solomon Islands than PNG.

Self-reliance for Bougainville could quickly make the islands a brand-new front in the fight for impact being waged in between China, the United States and Australia throughout the South Pacific.

They are amongst the poorest in the southern hemisphere and the need for money to construct infrastructure, develop institutions and balance the books “creates a chance for stars like China to get included”, said Jonathan Pryke of Sydney’s Lowy Institute.

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