Bougainville President John Momis and Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill have agreed to work towards a 2019 referendum on independence, following a meeting in Port Moresby last week.
Bougainville is an autonomous part of PNG, and fought a decade-long civil war with the national government that ended in 1999.
The region must hold an independence vote by 2020 under the terms of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, but the new target date is not final.
President Momis said the decision had kickstarted the planning process ahead of the historic vote on June 15, 2019.
“With that date now agreed, we can plan the steps required to hold the referendum, and the time and the funding and personnel needed to carry out each step,” he told PNG’s Post Courier newspaper.
The PNG Government has also committed to funding referendum preparations, and it is hoped the decision will lead to full weapons disposal in Bougainville.
Some factions in Bougainville held onto their weapons after the conflict in case PNG would not allow the referendum to proceed, but President Momis said those suspicions could undermine the vote.
“I call now for full weapons disposal … only then will Bougainville be able to be referendum-ready. The Bougainville Peace Agreement requires that the referendum be free and fair,” he said.
“There should no longer be any doubt among Bougainvilleans whether or not the referendum will be held.”