Call for new Bougainville aid mission
Australian think tank says Canberra should lead a revitalised aid mission to Bougainville to ensure there is no re-emergence of violence.
An Australian think tank is calling for a Pacific mission to return to the autonomous Papua New Guinea province of Bougainville to ensure there is no re-emergence of violence.
The Australia Strategic Policy Institute, in a report called 'A Stitch in Time', says ten years on from the withdrawal of the Australian led mission to the province, there are worrying signs that the province could again tip over into instability.
(Image of Arawa township, Bougainville - New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
An ASPI analyst, Karl Claxton, told Don Wiseman that Australia needs to lead a new Pacific assistance effort to avoid the need for another military intervention several years down the track.
KARL CLAXTON: As you know, there was a very successful peacekeeping mission in the late '90s led initially by New Zealand and taken over by Australia. That's really held up as an example of how to do imaginative, creative peacemaking. But a decade down the track, a decade after that finished in 2003 and a year and a half ahead of the Referendum window opening, there are some very worrying signs. Now, the last thing we want to do is be alarmist about those signs - that could be very deeply unhelpful. But, equally, it's not good enough just to cross our fingers and hope for the best in such a serious and dangerous situation.
DON WISEMAN: What are your concerns?
KC: A lot of the social conditions and economic conditions that led to violence kicking off in 1988 are still there and in many ways getting worse. There's been generational change both in Bougainville and in Port Moresby. There's not the sense of how dangerous and awful the situation can be that there was a decade ago. We think there's real potential that none of the sides want violence, but all of them could very easily now be kicked into that situation. We've called this report 'A Stitch In Time' and what we're saying is if we spend a bit more on aid, if we go in with our regional partners such as New Zealand and our Pacific partners, now we can avoid a much more dangerous and much more expensive, almost inevitable, peacekeeping mission for five years down the track.
DW: As you say, the initial peacekeeping mission was very successful, but these sorts of things are never about developing an economy, are they?
KC: The 2001 peace agreement worked out in Lincoln really depended on a continuing level of investment and a continuing level of attention, which, hardly surprisingly in a developing country which faces myriad other challenges, simply hasn't occurred. So the peace agreement put off the question of independence for a decade to give a chance for the economy and society to be rebuilt. That simply hasn't happened. And what we're saying is... We're certainly not recommending a RAMSI-style shadow government, but what we're saying is to avoid the need to put in a shadow government, which will be expensive and dangerous for countries like Australia and New Zealand, we need to act in a concerted and co-operative way with our neighbours on a development surge, if you like, to address some of the problems that Bougainville still very much faces.
DW: The ABG have, on a number of occasions, spoken to New Zealand and Australia about increasing their involvement in terms of policing and this sort of thing, so they're, to a large extent, on the same page as you.
KC: New Zealand has half a dozen cops there at the moment and Foreign Minister McCully has talked about probably doubling that number, and that's certainly very welcome. We need Australian Federal Police in there, as well. That would need to be part of a much larger mission. And the thing is not to create a shadow government, but to be working within and alongside the autonomous Bougainville government as the new Bougainville civil service stands up next year and to be mentoring and helping. What ASPI is saying is that it's time, really, to put the focus back on Bougainville and to be giving it a bit more help, helping the PNG, which needs to be a central partner, to prevent conflict re-emerging in the future.
DW: After the next elections for the ABG during 2015 and through to 2020, there's this window where there can be a vote on possible independence from Papua New Guinea. You're suggesting that if the government in Port Moresby then opposes this, this could be a pivotal event for Bougainville in terms of sparking more violence.
KC: That, I guess, is our key concern. But all the close observers of Bougainville are saying that's exactly what would happen at the moment. The Lincoln Peace Agreement, necessarily, to get Papua New Guinea to give Port Moresby the confidence to sign up to it, had to give Port Moresby a veto. And, at the moment, there's every sign that if Bougainville voted for independence that it's utterly unprepared for, doesn't have any of the basic infrastructure to be an independent country, has none of the economic infrastructure. There's almost no chance of the mine opening until there's stability there and without large-scale mining there's no possibility of viable independence or genuine autonomy. And they'll just have to stay part of Papua New Guinea. So that is quite a dangerous situation. The other danger we see is that if either party tried to hold the referendum very early in the 2015 - 2020 window, or indeed tried to unilaterally delay the referendum beyond 2020, neither of those things is possible under the peace agreement, but both parties are getting so frustrated that they could attempt that. That, again, would be a potential spark for a very serious situation. So what we need to be in there doing is just turning the heat down all the time on the inevitable little points of friction and creating an economic situation and a governance situation where Bougainvilleans will be able to make a genuine choice between two positive outcomes in the future.
DW: When you talk about the Port Moresby veto, would this be because of this desire to keep all the provinces together or just because they feel that Bougainville is not ready to be independent?
KC: I really think it would be both. Papua New Guinea is a proud country and they're rightly proud. Their economy is growing very strongly and they're really surging ahead in many ways. No country likes to see any part splinter off it. But I think the broader question of this difference of opinion is really the stronger factor. So there are very, very strong feelings in Bougainville both for independence and also against independence. And Bougainville is, frankly, not ready for independence. It's not anywhere near ready for independence. So Port Moresby, in exercising its veto, should it choose to do that, I think would be based more on the fact that Bougainville is not ready than the desire to keep Bougainville, which it probably does.
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