In brief

Bougainville accuses Australia of “covert threats”, “destabilising” self-determination

Australian Defence Minister calls for military treaty with Papua New Guinea

President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government Ishmael Toroama has accused Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles of threatening the territory’s independence aspirations.

Marles explained last week that Australia seeks to increase military agreements with Papua New Guinea, to which Bougainville belongs, and to sign a defence treaty. Among the reasons cited by the minister are the “family” relationship between the two countries and China’s growing projection into the Pacific.

Toroama sees this positioning as a “veiled threat” to Bougainville’s road to independence and a clear indication that Australia will no longer remain impartial in the implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, to which Canberra is a signatory.

That agreement made the 2019 Bougainville independence referendum possible. Some 98% of the votes were in favour of secession.

The referendum was non-binding and the final say rests with the PNG Parliament, where a crucial vote on the issue is scheduled for next year. Papua New Guinea can either choose to accept Bougainville’s independence or offer it extended autonomy.

With Marles’ statement, “the Australian Government throws its support behind the Government of Papua New Guinea to destabilise yet again Bougainville’s right to self-determination,” Toroama said.