Bougainvillean President Ishmael Toroama responded angrily to comments made by Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles at a joint media conference with Papua New Guinean PM James Marape in Port Moresby, on October 13, following talks between Australia and PNG over a new security agreement.
Marles was asked at the media conference to comment on Bougainville’s future.
"As a witness to the arrangements that were put in place in respect of Bougainville more than 20 years ago, our job is to support Papua New Guinea. And that's what we're going to do," he said.
The Autonomous Bougainville Government is awaiting ratification by the PNG government of a successful referendum in 2019, where 97.7% of the people of Bougainville voted in favour of independence.
The referendum was agreed on under the terms of the 2001 peace agreement, following the end of the 1988–98 civil war between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF). During the war, Australia supplied helicopters, patrol boats and other military hardware to the PNGDF. Up to 20,000 people were killed.
The following is Toroama’s response, in full:
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“The Australian Government has finally made its position known to the world that it would support the Government of Papua New Guinea on whatever decision it will make on Bougainville’s aspirations for political independence from Papua New Guinea.
“Since the cessation of the Bougainville Civil War and the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001 Australia has maintained its neutrality. This is the very first time it has come out clear, without much surprise to us, to support the Government of Papua New Guinea on the issue of Bougainville’s independence aspirations.
“It has become clear now why our requests for resources and assistance for independence preparatory related activities such as the Bougainville Constitutional Planning Commission have been ignored.
“I would like to remind the Australian Government that it was they who instigated the Bougainville Crisis through their involvement with Rio Tinto when they suppressed the rights of the people of Bougainville.
“It was the Australian Government who trained and armed the Papua New Guinea Defence to wage war on the citizens of Bougainville and it was they who supplied gun ships to wreck havok and mayhem on Bougainville.
“What we are witnessing right now is simply history repeating itself where the Australian Government throws its support behind the Government of Papua New Guinea to destabilise yet again Bougainville’s right to self-determination.
“The statements by the Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles are in my view veiled threats being issued to the Government and people of Bougainville as he boasts about the military cooperation between the two countries.
“The Bougainville Peace Agreement spells out a process of healing and a way forward for Bougainville and PNG through a peace by peaceful means approach which is based on the core values of our Melanesian traditions and cultures.
“This is not something I believe the Australian Government would have an understanding of. Mr Marles offers a very clear indication that Australia as a signatory of the Bougainville Peace Agreement will no longer remain impartial in implementing the provisions of the agreement.
“The concerns raised by Mr Marles on regional security and the increasing Chinese presence in the Pacific Region is a moot point to the 97.7 percent of Bougainvilleans who voted for independence in the 2019 Bougainville Referendum.
“Geopolitics is the least of our reasons to become an independent sovereign nation. Our desire for independence is based on the marginalisation we as a people have received at the hands of the PNG and Australian Governments for more than half a century.
“I urge Prime Minister James Marape to continue to implement the Bougainville Peace Agreement and to honour the provisions of Era Kone Covenant as we prepare for the next stage of our joint negotiations.
“We have remained passive recipients of piecemeal contributions and boomerang aid from the Australian Government but Mr Marles’ sentiments have now shown Australia’s true intentions for Bougainville.
“I assure the governments of PNG and Australia that my government and my people do not take kindly to threats and we will never kowtow to neo-colonists that seek to usurp the sovereignty of Pacific island nations with their bullying tactics and intimidation.”