History of the Peace Process
The Bougainville conflict was one of the most serious conflicts in the South Pacific region since the Second World War. Some thousands of people died as a direct or indirect result of the conflict, which began in 1989 and dragged on until the early months of 1998. Suffering on the island was widespread. At one point 70,000 of a population of 180,000-200,000 were displaced in care centres or camps.
In July 1997, the Bougainville factions first met to discuss a peaceful settlement of the conflict. In October 1997 they agreed to an immediate truce. The NZ-led Truce Monitoring Group (TMG) was deployed from December 1997 until April 1998. It included up to 250 truce monitors from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu.
On 30 April 1998, the parties agreed on a permanent ceasefire agreement. The Australian-led Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) was then deployed to replace the TMG. This was complemented at the end of July 1998 by the deployment of the United Nations Observer Mission on Bougainville (UNOMB).
On 30 August 2001, a comprehensive Bougainville Peace Agreement was signed in Arawa. The Agreement included a weapons disposal plan and provided for elections for the establishment of an autonomous government on Bougainville. It also provided for a referendum, 10 to 15 years after the election of an Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), on the question of Bougainvillean independence.
On 21 December 2004, an agreed Constitution for the Autonomous Region of Bougainville was gazetted by the PNG Government, paving the way for elections for the establishment of autonomous government. The Constitution provides for a legislature made up of 33 directly elected members, a President, a Speaker, three women's representatives, and three ex-combatant representatives.
In May 2005, UNOMB declared the weapons disposal program complete and verified that the situation on Bougainville was conducive to holding elections. The election took place from 20 May to 2 June 2005. It was a momentous event in the long process of establishing and consolidating a permanent peace on Bougainville. An International Election Observer Mission – invited by the PNG Government and Bougainvillean leaders to observe the election – concluded that the election was competently and transparently conducted in all key respects. Three Australians participated in the Observer Mission, including Andrew Laming MP, Federal Member for Bowman.
On 15 June 2005, the first Bougainville President, Joseph Kabui, and the members of the Autonomous Bougainville Government were sworn into office in a ceremony in Buka.
Australian assistance to Bougainville
Australia has made an important contribution to the Bougainville peace process, particularly through its leadership of the Peace Monitoring Group (PMG). The PMG remained on Bougainville from May 1998 to 30 June 2003, and involved unarmed military and civilian personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu. It helped build confidence in the peace process, including by facilitating meetings and distributing peace-related information. At its peak the PMG comprised around 300 personnel. In total, around 3,800 Australian Defence Force personnel and 300 Australian civilians served at various times in the PMG. Australia also led the civilian Bougainville Transition Team (BTT) that replaced the PMG from 30 June 2003 until 31 December 2003. The BTT continued the peace-related activities of the PMG, but on a reduced scale.
Australia has complemented its support for peacekeeping with substantial reconstruction aid. Since 1997, Australia has provided over A$250 million to support Bougainville’s peace process and post-conflict reconstruction. Current Australian aid in Bougainville is focused on assisting implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, improving service delivery in the four Partnership for Development priority Sectors, and fostering employment-focused economic development.