PNG PM reassures ABG of referendum

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neil. Picture: RNZ

PORT MORESBY – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has reassured the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and its people of the national government’s commitment to their referendum.

“There will be no delays. We will hold it as specified in the (Bougainville) peace agreement,” he said in Port Moresby Thursday when closing a three-day conference on the referendum run by the National Research Institute.

“There are sometimes perceptions out there that the national government is not fully committed to the peace process on Bougainville. That is not true.

“The national government is committed to honouring the spirit and the letter of the agreement.”

However, O’Neill warned that some requirements needed to be met before the referendum was held.

He echoed Bougainville President John Momis’ concerns on Tuesday over the issue of weapons disposal, saying that it had to be implemented fully to ensure a free and fair referendum.

He touched on good governance issues, saying that the last review of the autonomous arrangements was 10 years ago. He described this situation as lacking accountability and transparency.

In addressing the “independence” option of the referendum, O’Neill reiterated his past statements and position that he “strongly” believed that it was not the intention of the authors of the Constitution that Papua New Guinea ended up as a divided nation.

“The national Parliament will make the right decision given the interest of both Bougainville and Papua New Guinea,” he said.

O’Neill expressed confidence, however, that the challenges over the next few months leading up to the referendum would be achieved amicably.

Meanwhile, the women’s role at village and community levels in Bougainville has played a significant role in the Bougainville Peace Agreement process, a women’s group official says.

PNG National Council of Women president Theresa Jaintong said this at the conclusion of a conference on the Bougainville referendum in Port Moresby.

“Bougainville is a matrilineal society where women are leaders, governing affairs of their society. That has encouraged women to talk to their husbands, brothers and sons to uphold peace. We want to make sure there is peace for our family,” she said.

Jaintong said the importance of women’s role in politics also contributed to peace.

“Women’s contributions have guaranteed the withdrawal of security forces in 1990 and played a significant role in BPA since peace talks started,” she said.

Bougainville Women’s Federation president Rachael Sien said Bougainville women were credited as the initiators of peace.

“It was a painful experience for women throughout the crisis. The respect of our male counterparts towards us has brought lasting peace in our society. It is evident today that Bougainville women are still working side by side with their men to ensure BPA in reference to the referendum is achieved,” Sien said.

Jaintong said ABG women’s federation and the National Council of Women would reconcile on Monday as a sign of their commitment towards achieving their goals.

She appealed to the government, ABG and other stakeholders to do the same before referendum

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