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  • Bougainville
  • Volker Boege (bio)

Reviews of Timor-Leste and Vanuatu are not included in this issue.

In 2021, consultations continued between the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the government of Papua New Guinea (GoPNG) on the implementation of the result of the Bougainville independence referendum of December 2019. It became clear that the positions of the two sides are still far apart. While the ABG argues that, based on the 97.7 percent vote for independence in the referendum, the consultations should only be about the road to independence, the GoPNG insists on the nonbinding character of the referendum and sees the consultations as aimed at a "final political settlement" of the Bougainville issue, whatever that may be. The political elite in Papua New Guinea (PNG) struggle with the prospect of Bougainville seceding. On the Bougainville side, by contrast, political activities are geared toward the goal of becoming "independence ready." The new ABG under President Ishmael Toroama has reiterated time and again that it is fully committed to this goal.

Meetings and consultations between the ABG and the GoPNG started in January and continued throughout 2021. On 11 January, ABG President Toroama and PNG Prime Minister James Marape signed a "Joint Communique" that was to serve as the basis for future consultations between the two governments about the post-referendum transition process. The communiqué summarized the main "facts and principles of the Bougainville peace process." It refers to the definition of "independence" agreed on by the two governments, acknowledges the referendum as "free and fair," confirms the result of 97.7 percent for independence, and states that "the referendum outcome will be subject to ratification (final decision-making) of the National Parliament" of PNG (ABG 2021c).

The Toroama-Marape meeting was followed by a Joint Supervisory Body (jsb) meeting of the two governments on 5 February 2021 (the jsb is in charge of the implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement of August 2001). The Bougainville side came well prepared. At the end of January, a Bougainville Leaders Consultation Forum was held "to gauge views from leaders in different sectors in preparation for the consultation process between ABG and the National Government." This forum was made up of the members of the Bougainville Parliament, the House of Representatives, members of civil society, church leaders, women's and youth leaders, and "other recognized leaders in Bougainville" (ABG 2021b). Participants discussed developments in the transition process, received briefings about the ABG-GoPNG consultations, and elaborated recommendations for the process.

The jsb meeting of 5 February formally accepted the "Joint Communique [End Page 447] as the roadmap to consultations on the outcome of the Bougainville Referendum" and decided to have a first joint consultation meeting on the referendum result at the beginning of March (ABG 2021h). Even if the outcome of the jsb meeting was meager, it was important that it took place at all, given the long break in the process in the previous year due to covid-19 and the unstable political situation in PNG. Unfortunately, the first round of consultations could not take place as planned. Again, the main reason was the covid-19 situation, which had deteriorated considerably.

It was only on 28 April that President Toroama and Prime Minister Marape met again in Port Moresby. At this meeting they confirmed what had been agreed on earlier and presented a new timetable for the next steps in the transition consultation process. They declared that a "consultation framework" and a "Post Referendum Consultation Package" were to be elaborated, which would guide the work of the "consultation teams." They confirmed the appointment of Bertie Ahern, the former Irish prime minister who had led the Bougainville Referendum Commission, as the moderator for the consultation process, and they announced that "the UN will chair the consultation process" (GoPNG 2021b).

On 18 and 19 May 2021, the first round of consultations finally took place in Kokopo, East New Britain. In the meeting, Marape and Toroama "acknowledged … that the people of Bougainville have voted in favor of independence" and "directed the National and Bougainville technical teams to: consult on the definition and process of ratification, identify constitutional issues relating to the referendum result and the tabling...