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Bougainville Revolution

The Bougainville Revolution was a nine-year secessionist revolt on the island of Bougainville which ended in 1997 after claiming some 20,000 lives.

Bougainville is a large island and the largest of the Solomon Islands. It is a province of Papua New Guinea, and lies to the east of the mainland. It has a population of about 200,000. Bougainville has substantial mineral resources, which became the source of its conflict.

The problem originated over the Panguna mine, which is owned by CRA Explorations. This mine is vitally important to the Papuan New Guinea economy, and although it is on Bougainville, the Bougainvilleans do not profit from it. The people of Bougainville began voicing their dissatisfaction with these arrangements in the late 1960s. Although the Bougainvilleans gained some autonomy in 1972, they were denied both complete autonomy and the profits from their mines from the Papuan Parliament.

As a result of a breakdown in negotiations, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) was formed in 1988. Led by Francis Ona, the BRA committed various acts of sabotage, and occassionally clashed with both the Papuan New Guinea army and police. However, the BRA was successful in that it managed, through terrorist attacks, to shut down the Panguna mine in 1989.

Tensions were exacerbated when, in May 1990, the Papuan government blockaded Bougainville. During the next few years, sporadic violence continued as the Papuan Foreign Minister, Sir Julius Chan, attempted to secure a peace between the two parties. During this period in time, the Papuan government had attempted to get military assitance from Australia and New Zealand. When these two countries refused, the Papuan government hired mercenaries. However, the mercenary invasion was a disaster and Australian news media soon got hold of the story. The Sandline affair, named after the company from which the mercenaries were obtained, marked the low point in the Bougainville revolution, and there was almost a coup d'etat in Papua New Guinea because of it. However, in 1997, a peace accord was signed, and violence on the island has for the most part subsided. Nonetheless, Francis Ona, the leader of BRA, remains at large and has so far refused to play any part in the peace process.

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