Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has cast doubt on whether an independence referendum will go ahead for the autonomous region of Bougainville because key conditions have not been met.
Part of the peace agreement that ended a decade-long secessionist conflict between Bougainville and Papua New Guinea was the proposal to hold a referendum on independence before 2020.
Bougainville needs to meet certain criteria before the referendum can be held, Mr O’Neill told PNG’s Parliament.
“That includes a proper establishment of rule of law, proper establishment of a government structure on Bougainville, proper disposal of weapons — so all those issues are yet to be met, Mr Speaker, as we speak today,” he said.
“I don’t want Papua New Guineans and Bougainvilleans to think that it’s an easy path, that we’ll just wake up tomorrow and have a referendum.
“It may be such that it’s not possible.”
Mr O’Neill told MPs the PNG Government would help Bougainville resolve the problems, but did not give details.
“We need to work between now and then to work harder in making sure that we attend to the issues that are clearly defined and stated in the peace agreement,” he said.
“I want to assure the [Autonomous Bougainville Government] and the people of Bougainville that we are there to work with them in resolving these issues.”
In January, the PNG and Bougainville governments set up a commission to prepare for the referendum, but did not give it any funding at the time.