With Bougainville’s overwhelming vote for independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG), the country has crossed a milestone in the peace process following the civil war that ended in 1998. The non-binding referendum, to ascertain a preference for either greater autonomy or separate statehood, was a promise enshrined in the 2001 Bougainville Peace agreement.

Results of the referendum

Presently, Bougainville is a province of fewer than 3,00,000 population. The Bougainville Referendum Commission undertook the commendable task of enlisting inmates in hospitals and prisons and non-residents to ensure that the conduct of the franchise was inclusive. A testament of the participation was the 85% turnout in the plebiscite. With 98% opting to secede, the people spoke emphatically at the end of an animated campaign.

History

The demand for separate statehood in Bougainville dates back almost to PNG’s independence in 1975. This sentiment was further crystallised by the conflict over the open cast copper mine in Panguna town — among the world’s largest and richest — whose revenues accounted for over 45% of the country’s export earnings. In the confrontation that centred around sharing the mineral resources, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army was pitted against the PNG security forces for a decade. An estimated 20,000 lives were lost and many were displaced.

Source: The Hindu

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; IOBR