Bougainville president accuses Richard Marles of making ‘veiled threats’ against independence aspirations

Bougainville President Ishmael Toroama hit back at Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles’ pro-Papua New Guinea remarks last week as an attack on Bougainville’s independence aspirations.

Mr Marles told reporters on Thursday after talks with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape that Australia would support PNG and any decisions it takes with Bougainville.

“As a witness to the arrangements that were put in place for Bougainville over 20 years ago, our job is to support Papua New Guinea. And that is what we will do,” he said. he declares.

Mr Marles also signaled that he wanted to significantly expand defense cooperation across the Pacific, starting with an “ambitious” attempt to expand military ties and sign a security treaty with Papua New Zealand. Guinea.

Mr Toroama called Mr Marles’ statements “veiled threats” to Bougainville as he “boasts of military cooperation between the two countries”.

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Bougainville is a series of islands east of Papua New Guinea and northeast Australia that won a referendum to become independent in 2019.

The referendum followed the Bougainville Civil War between 1988 and 1998 which killed 20,000 people, about 10% of Bougainville’s population at the time.

Currently, Bougainville is an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea with its own constitution, government, civil service and controls – a key part of the 2001 peace agreement signed after the conflict.

Mr Toroama said Mr Marles’ comments were the first time since the end of the civil war and the signing of the Bougainville peace accord that Australia had ‘clarified’ a change from its neutral stance .

“It has now become clear why our requests for resources and assistance for independence-related activities such as the Bougainville Constitutional Planning Commission have been ignored,” Toroama said.

“What we are witnessing right now is simply history repeating itself, where the Australian government is supporting the government of Papua New Guinea to destabilize, once again, Bougainville’s right to self-determination.

Mr Taroama said the comments suggested Australia would no longer remain even-handed in implementing the Bougainville Peace Accord.

Richard Marles commented that as a witness to the Bougainville peace accord over 20 years ago, Australia supported Papua New Guinea and the Bougainville peace process.

“There has been no change to our longstanding policy on Bougainville,” a spokesperson for Mr Marles told the ABC.

“Australia’s role is to support the peace process and decisions about future arrangements that the parties need to negotiate.

He said Australia would support any political settlement agreed by the parties, but it is not Australia’s role to express views on those arrangements.

Mr Marles last visited Bougainville in 2011.

Bougainville is an autonomous region of PNG.(ABC News: GFX/Jarrod Fankhauser)

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