Conflict and Peace
While the Panguna mine was the major contributor to Papua New Guinea’s GDP and government revenue, its perceived imposition by the colonial regime for the benefit of the rest of Papua New Guinea was widely resented in Bougainville, and from the mid-1960s contributed to an already emerging ethno-nationalist movement for secession from Papua New Guinea.
Bougainville attempted secession through a unilateral declaration of independence in 1975, the dispute being settled by Papua New Guinea establishing a constitutionally based system of decentralization from 1977.
In 1988, localized disputes over impacts of the mine and the revenue share received by younger landowners sparked violent conflict.
Papua New Guinea police responded to destruction of mine property with widespread violence that was the catalyst for the mobilization of a wider ethno-nationalist rebellion built on a long history of grievances and resistance.
Separation from Papua New Guinea became the central goal of a rapidly escalating rebellion.
Most non- Bougainvilleans left Bougainville during 1989 and early 1990, many fearing for their lives in a process that was in some respects a form of ethnic cleansing.
After Papua New Guinea forces withdrew from Bougainville following a March ceasefire, Bougainville declared independence in May 1990 in a unilateral declaration that gained no international recognition. Intra-Bougainville conflict developed from the early 1990s, complicating the rebels’ efforts.
A series of peace-making endeavors ended the conflict in 1997. Long and complex negotiations aimed at resolving both intra-Bougainville tensions and those between Papua New Guinea and Bougainville resulted in the political settlement of August 2001.
Among the goals for an independent Bougainville fought for by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) was autonomy for customary social groupings.
The BRA also sought to strengthen these groupings as well as Bougainville state structures by building close links between the two. Such goals remained central to the Bougainvillean agendas; a political settlement with Papua New Guinea in the Bougainville Peace Agreement of August 30, 2001 guaranteed them a high level of autonomy.
The settlement kept open the possibility of independence through a constitutionally guaranteed referendum on the subject, to be held among Bougainvilleans 10 to 15 years after the first autonomous government is established.
Almost all senior Bougainville leaders see the process of building linkages between customary and state power as crucial to developing sustainable state structures for Bougainville—whether they be those of an autonomous Bougainville government or of an independent Bougainville