Another Independence Movement in the Pacific - Politics | PoFo

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Al Jazeera wrote:Bougainville votes on independence from Papua New Guinea

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

More than 1,000 people waited on Saturday morning to cast their ballots at one polling station in the main city of Buka, as others formed makeshift choirs that stomped through the streets, waving independence flags, blowing bamboo pipes and chanting in chorus.

"I am so happy," said 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 isles will become the world's newest country. Their choice is between full independence or greater autonomy within PNG.

Polls will stay open for two weeks to ensure those in remote villages have a say, with a result expected in December. Supporters of full independence are expected to win handily, although without reliable opinion polls, a surprise is always possible.

The vote caps a 2001 peace deal that ended a brutal decade-long war between Bougainville rebels, PNG security forces and foreign mercenaries. Up to 20,000 people were killed in the fighting, with thousands more displaced from their homes.

Some remarked that days of heavy rain preceding Saturday's vote were a sort of "baptism" for a community that still vividly remembers the pain of conflict.
"Many people fought," said 23-year-old Jessica Ota, who was born as the war still raged. If independence is gained, she said, those lost in the crisis "would not have died for nothing".

The 1988-1998 war had its roots in a struggle over revenues from the now-shuttered Panguna copper mine, which at one point accounted for more than 40 percent of PNG's exports. The mine is estimated to still hold more than five million tonnes of copper and 19 million ounces of gold - worth billions of dollars at current market prices.

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

If voters do choose independence, the decision would need ratification from the PNG Parliament, where there is anxiety that Bougainville could set a precedent and spur other independence movements within the diverse country. But rejection would risk rekindling former feuds and destroying the peace process.

"While many are expecting an overwhelming vote for independence, what that would look in terms of building 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 step before that though will take place here in the PNG Parliament, where the government also needs to approve any outcome."

John Momis, Bougainville regional president, cautioned excited voters on Saturday that the referendum was only one step in a long process and urged patience. "We should not rush things, we should take our time to ensure a good outcome," he said, adding that a final result "could be five years" away.

But in a sign of hopeful cooperation with the national government, Momis was accompanied to the polling station by Puka Temu, PNG's minister for Bougainville affairs. "The celebratory spirit around this particular day, I think it demonstrates the maturity of our leadership and the maturity of the people in Bougainville," Temu said.

Preparations for the voting were peaceful, and in recent weeks once-sworn enemies have taken part in tearful reconciliation ceremonies, where arrows were snapped to symbolise the end of a vicious conflict.

"There's been massive investment in terms of awareness-raising to ensure that the expectations of the voters be managed, to ensure that the understanding of the process be clear," said Gianluca Rampolla, the United Nations resident coordinator in PNG.

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

Since 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 before administration was handed over to Port Moresby. But the territory has historically shared a closer affinity with the neighbouring Solomon Islands than PNG.

Independence for Bougainville could instantly make the islands a new front in the battle for influence being waged between China, the United States and Australia across the South Pacific. They are among the poorest in the southern hemisphere and the need for cash to build infrastructure, develop institutions and balance the books "creates an opportunity for actors like China to get involved", said Jonathan Pryke of Sydney's Lowy Institute.

Al Jazeera

Australia and the United States really need to keep an eye.
The referendum is non-binding and a vote for independence would need to be negotiated by leaders of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. Bougainville is home to the largest copper mine in the region, which provided up to 45 percent of Papua New Guinea's export profits. Mining profits were not being shared fairly between Papua New Guinea and Bougainville, which was a major source of tension that resulted in the Bougainville conflict from 1988 to 1998. Once the results are announced, the governments of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville will enter a period of consultation. MPs from Papua New Guinea may be reluctant to vote in favor of an independent Bougainville due to the island's vast resources.


Sampling locations and overview of genomic diversity. (a) Sources of population data used in the present study. The Philippine group names are abbreviated as follows: Aet (Aeta); Agt (Agta); Bat (Batak); Cas (Casiguran); Kan (Kankanaey); Taga (Tagalog); Tagb (Tagbanua); Zam (Zambales); and Phi (Philippines, incorporating all other groups from this region). Colours indicate regional affiliation of populations used for analysis of autosomal DNA: orange – mainland Southeast Asia and East Asia; dark blue – Taiwan; brown – Philippines Aeta, Agta and Batak negritos; light blue – Philippines non-negritos; red – western Indonesia; pink – eastern Indonesia; purple – northern Melanesia and New Guinea; black – Australia; green –Polynesia. The usage of populations varies with the type of analysis employed (Supplementary Table S1). Inset map shows the three populations from the Leeward Society Isles, and Tahiti, the major island in the Windward Society Isles. The red circles within Micronesia and Melanesia represent 20 of the atolls and islands referred to collectively as outlier Polynesia. The red stars denote the three additional Polynesian outlier populations (Rennell and Bellona, Tikopia), which together with Tonga, were used in analysis of ancient admixture by Skoglund, et al.25. Detailed sample information is given in Supplementary Table S1. The map was created using R v. 3.4.1 (R Core Team (2017). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing,, and packages ‘maps’ v. 3.2.0 ( and ‘mapdata’ v. 2.2-6 ( (b) Inset at top right shows two alternative reconstructed sub-groupings of Polynesian languages discussed in the text. The critical differences are the position of the East Polynesian languages relative to the rest of nuclear Polynesian, and their relationship to the Central Northern Outlier languages. In the sub-grouping according to Pawley31 all the Polynesian Outlier languages group within Samoic implying an early separation of Proto-East Polynesian from the rest of the Nuclear Polynesian languages. In the alternative sub-grouping proposed by Wilson32 the Central Northern Outlier languages group with the languages of East Polynesia, within a larger clade containing the other Northern Outlier languages. (c) Principal components analysis of genome-wide SNP diversity in 639 individuals populations shown in panel A; axes are scaled by the proportion of variance described by the corresponding principal component.
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