By Meriba Tulo – EMTV News, Port Moresby
In the lead up to its referendum exercise in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, the people of Bougainville have been urged to work together to ensure the outcome of this vote is free and fair.
A recent delegation comprising representatives from the National Government, Autonomous Bougainville Government, and the United Nations, began the first round of referendum awareness, which saw the team speak to over fifteen thousand people in total.
Autonomous Bougainville Government President Chief John Momis recently led a high-level delegation from the ABG, National Government, and the United Nations for the first round of Referendum Awareness.
Among the delegation, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Bougainville Affairs, William Samb, and UN Resident Coordinator, Gianluca Rampolla.
Over the course of a week-and-a-half, an estimated fifteen thousand people attended the awareness sessions. An indication of the desire for information from the people of Bougainville as they prepare for the vote to determine their political future.
Among the highlights of this first awareness – meeting with representatives of the Makamui Government in Panguna – where the crisis began. The Mekamui in recent months has affirmed their support for the referendum, with its leaders committing to the Joint Weapons Disposal Program – a key pillar of the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
According to Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Bougainville Affairs, William Samb, the spirit of partnership and cooperation has been positive, and needs to continue up until and after the referendum is completed. Minister Samb adding that Bougainville remains an integral part of Papua New Guinea, with the National Government, committed to supporting the people of Bougainville to ensure that the referendum is conducted in a free and fair manner.
For ABG President Chief John Momis, preparations towards the referendum exercise, now confirmed for October 12th this year, have truly begun, with the President noticing a spirit of unity among communities where the awareness team has visited. He says this must continue to ensure a credible outcome for the Autonomous Region.
Much of the support from outside of Papua New Guinea has been channeled through the United Nations system in PNG. The UN Resident Coordinator, Gianluca Rampolla, when speaking to EMTV News also reaffirmed the commitment of development partners to the people of Bougainville. A commitment borne out of the commitment by the people to uphold the Bougainville Peace Agreement – one of very few peace agreements that has stood the test of time.
Whilst there have been some concerns raised on the perceived timing of awareness efforts in Bougainville, it has been noted with the referendum date now set – the people of Bougainville are more determined than ever to ensure their decision through the ballot come October is taken note of.