Bougainville Referendum next month

Bougainvillean raising their provincial flag

Bougainville is likely to vote for independence from Papua New Guinea in a referendum that is scheduled to begin next month, creating a new source of regional uncertainty that could be exploited by countries like China and Indonesia.

Asia Times reports, Surveys of voting intentions suggests, as many as 80 percent of the 300- Thousand inhabitants will support self-determination at the referendum.

The referendum will be held for two weeks from November 23 and is expected to draw a curtain on more than a century of colonial rule, variously by Germany, Australia and PNG.

If the people of Bougainville vote for independence and are unable to reach agreement with the government of Papua New Guinea, the Bougainville issue may precipitate another regional crisis, warned analyst Ben Bohane, author of a study by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

That scenario could include a revival of the 1988 breakaway movement that drew the island into a decade of violence over the Panguna copper mine, tribal disputes and grievances with PNG which conspired to kill over 15- Thousand people.

Australia has said it will accept the outcome of the referendum, but is worried Bougainville might follow the nearby Solomon Islands in aligning with China.

Solomon Islands which have close ethnic and cultural roots with the Bougainvilleans, switched allegiance from Taiwan to China last month and on October 10 signed several economic and education deals with Beijing.

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