History of the conflict in Bougainville
From 1988 to 1998 the most violent conflict in the Pacific region since the Second World War erupted on the islands of Bougainville, now an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea.
A decade of violent conflict
A desire for self-determination, land disputes and environmental damage related to mining all helped fuel the conflict. In 1989 these grievances resulted in the outbreak of a number of localised violent incidents and the closure of the Panguna copper mine. The intervention of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) escalated the violence into eight years of conflict.
Over the years of fighting, different armed factions emerged, including the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Bougainville Resistance Forces. A large proportion of the population was displaced and up to 20,000 people died as a result of the conflict.
The Bougainville Peace Agreement
From the mid-1990s, accompanied by a ceasefire, a series of peace negotiations took place, which led to the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) in 2001. The BPA granted Bougainville autonomous status, establishing the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG).
The agreement also stipulated that there would be a referendum on Bougainville’s political status, which took place in November 2019. Almost 98% of voters backed independence, with just over 2% voting to remain part of Papua New Guinea with ‘greater autonomy’. This vote marks a key moment in the Bougainville peace process, but does not mark the end of the process.
Our work in Bougainville
Traditional methods of conflict-resolution have been used to build peace in many parts of Bougainville. Yet serious challenges remain. Communities are still divided, and post-conflict issues have not yet been dealt with. Considerable work is underway, including by individual Bougainvilleans, civil society and faith-based groups, and by the ABG, to address these challenges.
We work with the Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation (NCFR) supporting their community peacebuilding efforts. This work includes strengthening the peacebuilding skills of community leadership groups including women, youth and faith-based groups, as well as ex-combatant leaders, while also supporting community dialogue. Through such training and dialogue individuals gain the ability to analyse and manage conflict in their communities.
We work with the Department of Post-Referendum Consultation and Dialogue within the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), to support veterans – from the rank and file and senior leadership – to transition into non-militarised community and leadership roles. We also work with civil society, ex-combatants and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) to secure a peaceful post-referendum period through supporting processes of analysis and information sharing.
Prior to the referendum, in partnership with the United Nations, we were invited by the Papua New Guinea and Bougainville Governments to provide technical and facilitation support to a post-referendum ministerial level planning process. We are now continuing to provide such technical and facilitation support to both governments in their ongoing ministerial level dialogue and post-referendum planning process.
Conciliation Resources first worked in Bougainville in 2001, documenting the Bougainville peace process in an Accord publication and supporting civil society to share information about the peace process with communities across the region.