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The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) has exhorted civil society leaders and political groups meeting in Suva this week to ‘ensure colonising powers adhere to agreements’ they have committed to, on self-determination.
Dame Meg Taylor was responding to questions on the role of the Pacific Islands Forum in the lead up to two upcoming national referendums on self-determination planned for New Caledonia in 2018 and Bougainville in 2019.
“The Pacific Islands Forum does not have a role in any pre-referendum vote. In Bougainville, the United Nations in involved but if we are invited to send an observer mission, then we will do so.
Dame Meg said she would be visiting Bougainville next year.
She also urged civil society groups to advocate and create awareness on the people’s rights and responsibilities on self- determination.
“I can only advise you to do what you do best – advocacy and creating awareness in your communities. Your role is to ensure that these agreements are adhered to by the colonising powers. You must also ensure the registered rolls for the referendums are consistent with the agreement.
Her comments come a day after the pro-independence political group in New Caledonia, the FLNKS raised serious concerns about the missing names of indigenous voters from the 2018 referendum list. The FLNKS estimates that between 20,000-25,000 names are not in the French Government prepared voting list.
Theresa Jantong from Bougainville said her people are now preparing for the referendum to become independent from Papua New Guinea.
“The national government has been supporting Bougainville, building our capacity through education, providing us with our budget and building our infrastructure. There have been consultations between the national government and the Bougainville Autonomous Government to prepare us for the referendum, said Jantong.
Bougainville is an autonomous part of PNG, and fought a decade-long civil war with the national government that ended in 1999.
The region must hold an independence vote by 2020 under the terms of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, but the new target date for the referendum is now set for June 15, 2019.
Commenting on the planned independence votes in the two Melanesian countries, Solomon Islands political adviser on West Papuan issues, Fei Tevi said these two areas are potential ‘hotspots’ for the Pacific region in the coming two years.
“Self-determination is not a new issue. It has been the agenda of political leaders since the 1980’s and yet the region, especially civil society appear least prepared to deal with the two national referendums for self-determination in New Caledonia and Bougainville. Civil societies need to go out here and garner support to ensure the people are informed about this crucial vote.
Tevi said the other potential hotspot will be West Papua and how civil societies can support the peoples of West Papua in their struggle for independence.
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