Bougainville Revolution - Aftermath
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. Bowing to pressure from both his parliamentary colleagues and the international community, Chan suspended the Sandline contract in March and announced a commission of enquiry into its circumstances. The mercenaries were sent home. As a result of further pressure, Chan announced, on 26 March, that he and his two associates would ‘stand aside' pending the outcome of the enquiry. John Giheno was named acting prime minister in the interim.
The enquiry, conducted by Justice Warwick Andrews, cleared Chan of corruption. On hearing of this, in early June, Chan resumed his position as prime minister - until he lost his seat in the national elections two weeks later. However, the enquiry noted that it 'remains suspicious of Mr Haiveta's actions and motivations (concerning alleged insider trading associated with a trip he made to Hong Kong to meet Sandline executives), and, in parts, rejects his evidence as untruthful'.
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, remained at large and refused to play any part in the peace process. By the late 1990s there was a power shift in the BRA from militants like Ona to moderates like Joseph Kabui who had the support of Sam Kauona. Both Kabui and Kauona were willing to participate in peace talks. Government services were gradually restored and negotiations were carried on to create a more autonomous government for Bougainville, while still remaining a part of the nation of Papua New Guinea.
The 10-year rebellion was halted by a truce in 1997 and a permanent cease-fire was signed in April 1998. After lengthy negotiations, the Comprehensive Political Settlement was struck between the Government of PNG and provincial leaders in August 2001, ending the civil war in Bougainville. The peace agreement between the government and ex-combatants was signed in August 2001. Under the eyes of a regional peace-monitoring force and a UN observer mission, the government and provincial leaders established an interim administration and made significant progress toward complete surrender/ destruction of weapons.
The agreement gave Bougainville the right to exceptional autonomy within PNG and granted the province the option of a referendum on its future political status, including the option of independence, to be held 10 to 15 years after the election of an autonomous Bougainville Government. The agreement also included a Weapons Disposal Program, to which the UK contributed financial support.
Australian troops and officials were involved in the Truce Monitoring Group, led by New Zealand, and Australia led the follow-on Peace Monitoring Group. The Bougainville Peace Agreement was signed in 2001 and the PMG left in 2003.
A constitution was drafted in 2004 and provincial government elections were held in May 2005. The autonomous elections took place from 20 May to 02 June 2005, and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) was inaugurated on 15 June 2005. The elections were deemed to be free and fair by international observers, and Joseph Kabui was elected to serve as the first president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG). The new Bougainville administration continued to run the island with greater autonomy, while the central government of Papua New Guinea controlled defense and foreign affairs.
Francis Ona died of malaria on 24 July 2005. He was an inspiration to many, Francis stood up against Rio Tinto, the Australian government and PNG in order to secure a way of life free from exploitation by foreigners. The Bougainville secessionist leader had proclaimed himself 'King of the Island', and opposed the 2005 election of a new Autonomous Government.
With the formation of the ABG, the Organic Law of Provincial Government and Local Level Governments, which operate everywhere else in PNG, ceased to apply in Bougainville. Bougainvilleans also participated in Papua New Guinea national elections in 2007 to elect representatives to the national parliament. Bougainville has four Members of the PNG National Parliament who are entitled to attend and speak in the Bougainville House of Representatives but they cannot move motions, vote or be counted towards a quorum. They however have the same entitlements as all other National MPs.
President Joseph Kabui, the first President for the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, died of a heart attack on 07 June 2008. Born in 1954, the late President was a Commander in the Bougainville Revolutionary Army during the civil unrest on Bougainville and was elected as the President of the ABG in 2005 after the island gained autonomy from Papua New Guinea. A by-election was held between 6th and 20th December 2008 resulting in the election of President James Tanis with the writs returned on 31 December 2008.
Presidential and parliamentary elections were held in May 2010, and John Momis was elected President. A referendum was tentatively agreed to be held between 2015 and 2020, 10 to 15 years following formation of the ABG. Progress has been slow with the ABG initially focusing on disarmament, peace, and reconciliation. A small percentage of former fighters have created illegal "no go zones," particularly in the Central and South Bougainville. On 08 June 2015, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville concluded its first self-managed regional elections. Polling was peaceful and independent observer missions declared the election free and fair. The Office of the Bougainville Electoral Commissioner was responsive to candidate and voter complaints and solicited feedback from international and domestic observer groups to improve the electoral process.
Bougainville’s decade-long crisis strained relations between PNG and its eastern neighbor the Solomon Islands due to the accusation of cross border movement of militants who were allegedly supplying arms, ammunition and medicine to Bougainville.
Resolution of the Bougainville conflict did not dampen separatist sentiment and ethnic identity, which coupled with mineral exploitation has been central to the sense of being Bougainvillean. These issues were instrumental in the establishment of the North Solomons Provincial government in 1975, and a referendum on independence to be held in the period between June 2015 and 2020. Pre-conditions for the referendum include weapons disposal and good governance. Australia conducted Operation Render Safe in Torokina, Bougainville in late 2014 to assist with weapons disposal efforts.
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