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Bougainville - Background

The Bougainvillea is an immensely showy, floriferous and hardy plant, named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville [17291811] the French navigator who circumnavigated the globe accompanied by a team of scientists. Louis Antoine de Bougainville made a name for himself during the Seven Years' War as aide-de-camp to Montcalm in Canada, and later in distinguished service on the Rhine. After the Peace of Paris, believing that the military profession would offer no attractions in a period of international calm, he had determined to embark on a career as an explorer. A perusal of Anson's account of his Voyage round the World had suggested the idea that France might find indemnification in the southern ocean for her losses in North America. In 1766, he undertook round the world a voyage which lasted three years. He left the navy in 1790, entered the Institute (1796), was made a senator under the empire, and died in 1814.

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.

Australias colonial administration of PNG through to independence was marked by lingering secessionist moves by the people of Bougainville who since the 1960s had sought to align themselves with the Solomon Islands rather than Papua New Guinea. Issues of secession are strongly linked to ethnic identity which is more closely related to the people of the Solomon Islands. In addition, they are linked to copper mining exploration and development of infrastructure in the Panguna area and ad hoc compensation arrangements that created dissatisfaction among local land owners.

The establishment of a giant copper mine on the main island of Bougainville a few years before independence inflamed secessionist sentiments further. Bougainvilleans were denied what they saw as fair compensation and share of mine profits. The PNG Independence Constitution stated that land ownership was to just below the surface and that mineral rights belonged to the state.

When the national flag was created and raised during independence it was viewed by Bougainvilleans as symbolising political domination by Papuans over Bougainvilleans with the upper half painted red and lower half black. The red represented the lighter-skinned Papuans often referred to as red skins over their people (the black) due to their dark pigmentation. Skin colour has been a focal point for ethnic identification and differentiation and highlights differences in colonial experience.

In Bougainville in 1988 minor protests progressed to insurgency, leading to a breakdown of law and order that required immediate response from Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) to support the police to quell the fighting. In 1994 an 800-strong South Pacific peace-keeping Force (SPPKF) was deployed to Bougainville. The force, supported by HMAS Success and HMAS Tobruk, was deployed to Bougainville for three weeks to provide security for a peace conference.

The problem originated over the Panguna mine, which was 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.



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