‘What are you afraid of?’ Toroama asks PNG about independence vote

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Bougainville' President Ishmael Toroama
Bougainville' President Ishmael Toroama . . . the 2001 peace deal "stopped a decade-old conflict, established an autonomous government, and guaranteed a referendum to be held after 10 years but no later than 15 years."

PNG Post-Courier

Bougainville President Ishmael Toroama has called on Prime Minister James Marape to spell out “clearly and honestly” his fears about Bougainville obtaining independence from Papua New Guinea.

Toroama made this call over the PNG government’s delay of the referendum ratification process, which has been stalled beyond the required period for Parliament to give its blessing under the provisions of the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA).

The national government and ABG convened the Joint Supervisory Body (JSB) meeting in Port Moresby yesterday where Marape and Toroama both addressed the members.

“Honourable Prime Minister what is your fear? Toroama asked. “What is your apprehension?

“Is it that we will have nothing to do with PNG? Is it to do with the rest of the country seeking the union of PNG?

“Is it that you no longer take our referendum seriously?

“I appeal that we resort to our Melanesian customs, values, strengths which will continue to serve us.

‘Ultimate cry for freedom’
“Honourable Prime Minister, our position on this ratification pathway is simple.

“Bougainvilleans have voted for independence. That is the outcome that the BPA talks about as being subject to the ratification of the national Parliament; and that is the outcome that the national Parliament has to confirm, endorse, sanction, finalise, or ratify, according to Melanesian culture and protocol,” Toroama said.

“Honourable Prime Minister, we must not forget that Bougainville’s journey as a result of the conflict and the ultimate cry for freedom, self-determination and independence has been long, challenging and without a doubt, costly.

“More than 20,000 lives have been lost, infrastructure demolished to basically nothing and the rule of law, while being reconstructed slowly, mainly exists through traditional laws and systems.”

However, said President Toroama, on 30 August 2001, a peace deal had been secured by the people of Bougainville with the government of Papua New Guinea.

“It stopped a decade old conflict, established an autonomous government, and guaranteed a referendum to be held after 10 years but no later than 15 years.

“This was the Bougainville Peace Agreement — a peace deal that has been hailed as a great success story.

“Many years have gone by and the novelty of it all has rubbed off to some extent, yet its real value lies in the unknown nature of the referendum pillar of the agreement.

“The people of Bougainville have democratically exercised their constitutionally guaranteed right to choose their future and have voted for independence through a stunning 97.7 percent vote.”

Republished with permission.

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