MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Kabui sets mission of making autonomy work

Published by MAC on 2005-06-16

Kabui sets mission of making autonomy work

The National (Papua New Guinea)

June 16 2005

Buka: Making autonomy work for Bougainvilleans is the only way to prove to secessionist leader Francis Ona that the new autonomous government is a real alternative, the island's new president says. The first priority of the new government was to find money to make that autonomy work and provide goods, services and answers to the people, Joseph Kabui said on the eve of the new assembly's inauguration yesterday. "Definitely funding is going to be our number one priority," Mr Kabui said. Funding would have to come from within Bougainville, through agreed PNG government grants or from overseas donors, Mr Kabui said.

"I believe given time we will show that autonomy does have answers for the people of Bougainville.

"That will be the only way that we can prove to (secessionist leader) Francis Ona that we have a real alternative here."

Ona has declared himself king of the island and apart from staging recent public rallies opposing autonomy and the election, he has remained for 16 years in his mountain retreat near the defunct Panguna copper mine. Mr Kabui said Ona was an entrenched opponent of authority because in past years the interim provincial government and the PNG government had failed to provide goods and services to Bougainvilleans.

Income from copra, cocoa and vanilla as well as new ecotourism and fishing ventures were some of the new autonomous government's options for funding, Mr Kabui said.

The sensitive issue of a return to mining would also be considered. The giant Panguna copper mine was the flashpoint for the secessionist conflict following landowner resentment and environmental concerns. Mr Kabui said a return to mining would have to go through a plebiscite but that did not stop the government looking at other avenues such as helping people earn more from alluvial gold collecting on the old mine's tailings. The new government would also look at negotiating with Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL) and the PNG government about a transfer of remaining assets including equipment, land and funds from the Panguna operation. Mr Kabui said his government hoped to maintain a respectful partnership with the PNG government.

"This is not a province any more. We are an autonomous government now, an independent government, and therefore I hope that can be taken on board by the PNG government.

"If they don't take that sort of approach they will only be reinforcing in the minds of the people of Bougainville that there's no other answer when the referendum time comes except for them to go through one door, and that's independence."

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