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Conflict in Bougainville Islands

Although the people of Bougainville Island are culturally similar to the Solomon Islanders, it is under the rule of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

When the rest of the Solomon Islands became a British colony, Bougainville was handed to Germany as part of German New Guinea, in the late 17th Century. After World War One, Australia was given political authority to the area which was then named Papua New Guinea. PNG gained independence from Australia in 1975.

Bougainville Islanders disagreed with its status as part of PNG, and wanted their own independence. In 1988 a dispute over the Panguna copper and gold mine, which was the principal source of income for Bouganville Island, led to civil unrest. An uprising against PNG rule began. By the 1990s the rebellion had increased to become a major armed conflict.

The war continued until 1998, when a ceasefire was signed. An estimated 20,000 people died in the uprising. An Australian-led peacekeeping force arrived in the area in 1998 to supervise the ceasefire and help rebuild the country. A peace accord was signed in 2001, which granted some autonomy to Bougainville.

Today, Papua New Guinea and Bougainville are working through the final stages of implementing autonomy. An international presence, including New Zealand peacekeepers, will help the region through the last stages of the peace process. A constitution for the autonomous Bougainville has been drafted. It is now being considered by the PNG government. Once a constitution is agreed, progress will begin towards an election in the region.

War in the region has left thousands of people homeless, and has led to the almost total destruction of the Island's economic and social infrastructure.