GRAND Chief Sir Michael Somare has urged Bougainvileans to vote wisely from tomorrow in the referendum which will decide their future.
“For many Papua New Guineans, (in) Bougainville and elsewhere in our beautiful country, the act of the referendum represents a sad event in our history following the gaining of full independence for the nation in 1975,” he said in a statement.
The two-week polling begins tomorrow (Nov 23) and ends on Dec 7. The return of writs is scheduled for Dec 20.
The voters will pick one of two options: Greater Autonomy or Independence.
“As the founding prime minister of this nation, I call on the people of Bougainville to be guided by their inner wisdom in the vote for independence or full autonomy for Bougainville,” he said.
“This is the outcome of the peace agreement that was signed to formally end the Bougainville conflict, to restore peace to the nation and to forge new pathways for improved prosperity and living conditions for our people.
“The Bougainville conflict was the price we paid for issues that were never satisfactorily addressed in relation to the Bougainville copper mine.
“The mine was a key source of revenue for the government and people of this country for many years.
“Unfortunately, there was much concern, particularly in Bougainville, that the benefits of mining were not being shared in an equitable way.”
He said the problem “continues to confront leaders of this nation to this day, as can be seen with unresolved issues (at the) Porgera gold mine and the PNG LNG Project”.
“As the founding father who has visited some of the remotest parts of our country in every province, I am keenly aware of the disparities that exist and continue to be inadequately addressed by national, provincial and local level governments,” he said.
“As Bougainvilleans make their voices heard in the referendum, it is my hope that PNG remains united and free in the aftermath of this historic poll.”
He said the country had remained united for more than 40 years which was an achievement in itself.
“So it with heavy hearts that the rest of our country awaits the decision that the people of Bougainville will be taking in the next couple of days.”