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Violent clashes erupted, killing dozens.
Clashes 24 Oct surged between Kulumata and Kuboma peoples on Kiriwina Island, Milne Bay province (east), reportedly killing 32 people with over dozen missing; police next day deployed to island to maintain order, as unrest followed reports of communal violence in recent weeks.
National elections were marred by fraud allegations, deadly clashes between rival supporters and tribal fighting in Highlands region that killed 18 and displaced thousands. Voting in national elections for parliament took place over weeks-long period amid widespread reports of voter exclusion, ballot tampering and deadly violence, reminiscent of 2017 election in which some 200 were killed. Notably, prospective voters in East Sepik and Hela provinces 4-6 July destroyed ballot boxes and set fire to ballot papers to protest not being enrolled on voter lists. Local media 19 July reported fighting between rival candidates’ supporters since 4 July in Hela killed nine people. Clashes 20 July erupted between tribes in Porgera town in Enga province (Highlands region), which reportedly killed at least 18 people; govt next day deployed 120 soldiers to area. UN 21 July raised alarm over “deteriorating security situation” in Highlands region, citing govt sources that confirmed reports of “deaths, assaults, rape, and the extensive destruction of property and infrastructure”, while also noting “estimates of several thousand people, mostly women and children, displaced”; UN also noted widespread allegations of ballot tampering and ballot box theft. In capital Port Moresby, armed mobs supporting rival political parties 25 July clashed, leaving six people injured. International newspaper The Guardian citing country observer next day reported nationwide death toll reached 22 people since vote counting began. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 31 July reported that “unofficial estimates” assess 300 have been killed in Enga since May.
Papua New Guinea Bougainville govt and national govt of PNG pledged to conclude final political settlement by 2027. Following Dec 2019 non-binding referendum in which Bougainville electorate overwhelmingly voted for independence from PNG, PM Marape and president of Autonomous Region of Bougainville Ishmael Toroama 6 July reportedly agreed timetable for process related to transfer of powers to Bougainville authorities by 2023; in joint statement, both sides pledged support for final political settlement “no earlier than 2025 and no later than 2027”.
Tensions mid-month flared between police and military following deadly attack on senior police officer. In capital Port Moresby, hours after imposition of COVID-19 restrictions on sale and consumption of alcohol, off-duty military personnel 8 May attacked senior police inspector investigating illegal alcohol sale at black market; police officer next day died from injuries. Police 23 May arrested former PM Peter O’Neill following allegations of corruption and abuse of office during premiership. Supreme Court 29 May ratified Feb vote by Bougainville regional authorities rejecting proposed change to Bougainville constitution that would have allowed presidents to hold third term in office.
Following Dec non-binding referendum in which Bougainville electorate overwhelmingly voted for independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG), talks between Bougainville govt and national govt of PNG on what steps needed before referendum outcome negotiations can start progressed slowly. Talks on referendum consultation process took place in capital Port Moresby mid-March, resulting in decision for justice departments of both govts to work on clarification of term “ratification”. Meanwhile, at least nine people including three children reportedly killed in attack in Porgera valley on around 12 March; according to police, incident may be retaliatory attack for July 2019 deadly violence which resulted in dozens killed. UN in PNG 17 March condemned “massacre” and called “for immediate intervention to bring the perpetrators to justice”.
Bougainville Consultation Forum 23 Jan held first meeting following last month’s non-binding referendum in which 98% of electorate voted for independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG); forum set to decide on strategy of Autonomous Bougainville Govt (ABG) in negotiations with national govt of PNG. Bougainville parliament 17 Jan held debate over changes to constitution which would allow president of ABG to hold office for three terms and for three parliamentary seats to be reserved for veterans; negotiations to continue in March after return of parliament from adjournment.
Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC) 11 Dec announced result of non-binding referendum held in autonomous region Bougainville in late Nov/early Dec in which 98% of voters backed independence from PNG; turnout reported at 87%. Referendum, delayed twice in 2019 due to lack of funding, is part of 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement which ended decade of conflict on island over revenues from mining and its environmental impact. BRC 11 Dec issued statement declaring referendum process “informed, free of fear and accessible”. National govt and autonomous Bougainville govt set to begin post-referendum consultations prior to process of ratification in PNG parliament.
Voting began in long-delayed referendum on Bougainville island 23 Nov, where some 207,000 registered voters will choose between independence from PNG or greater autonomy, in line with 2001 Bougainville peace agreement; voting to continue until 7 Dec; result is non-binding and will go to national parliament.
Preparations underway for referendum in autonomous region Bougainville scheduled for 23 Nov-7 Dec, when some 300,000 voters will choose between greater autonomy and independence. Vote, outcome of which will need to be ratified in national parliament, is part of 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement which ended decade of conflict on island over revenues from mining and its environmental impact. Referendum delayed twice in 2019 due to lack of funding.
Inter-tribal violence in mountainous Hela Province early July left dozens dead. Following incidents of violence in June, tribesmen 6 July ambushed and killed six women and children near Peta village which prompted revenge attack by rival tribe 8 July, killing nine women and seven children in Karida village; in days following attacks, govt announced deployment of joint military-police taskforce to Hela province while PM Marape sent police minister to region to assess situation.
Political tensions continued amid opposition’s successful attempts to oust PM O’Neill. Opposition 6 May launched no confidence vote after finance minister James Marape and other senior ministers resigned from govt citing lack of trust in O’Neill, including alleged lack of consultation over controversial $16bn gas deal signed in April. Three days ahead of scheduled no confidence vote, O’Neill 26 May announced resignation citing “need for change”, but did not formally resign and next day appealed to Supreme Court to block vote. PM’s supporters and opponents physically clashed in parliament 28 May. O’Neill 29 May formally resigned in front of parliament; MPs elected Marape as new PM next day.
At 1 Nov meeting Australian and PNG PMs agreed on joint redevelopment plan for Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island; U.S. 17 Nov said it will support redevelopment. On sidelines of 17-18 Nov APEC summit in Papua New Guinea, both Australian and Chinese leaders hosted meetings with Pacific Island nation leaders.
Supporters of defeated candidate in 2017 election for governor of Southern Highlands province (centre), set fire to commercial plane, government buildings and governor’s home 14 June in protests at failure of court challenge relating to election result. UN 14 June evacuated staff in Mendi, capital of Southern Highlands, same day. 300 to 400 armed protesters 16-17 June marched on Mendi, calling for resignation of PM O’Neill. O’Neill 15 June declared nine-month state of emergency in province, suspending provincial govt for duration. Govt 23 June deployed 440 soldiers to Southern Highlands and neighbouring Hela province to calm situation.
Five people reported killed in inter-tribal conflict in Hela Province (centre) late month. Fighting reportedly flared up after 7.5 magnitude earthquake late Feb displaced thousands; over a dozen reported killed in tribal clashes since then.
UN refugee agency 22 Dec accused Australia of abandoning some 800 refugees and asylum seekers following Nov closure of Manus Island detention centre. Court 15 Dec granted asylum seekers who were held at Australian detention centre on Manus Island right to sue govt.
Violence broke out as govt 9 Nov began dismantling Australian detention centre on Manus Island, and attempted to remove some 600 asylums seekers who refused to be transferred to other centres after its 31 Oct closure; Supreme Court had declared centre, part of migration deal with Australia whereby PNG intercepts boats attempting to reach Australia for cash, illegal in April ruling. Detainees cited fears of violent reprisals from local population and remained in camp despite water, electricity and food supply cut-off. PM O’Neill 8 Nov said govt will apprehend those “causing unnecessary anxiety and violence”. Police 24 Nov forcibly evicted remaining 450 asylum seekers, ending standoff; use of force widely sparked outcry in Australia and internationally, and UN said violence “both shocking and inexcusable”.
Authorities 4 Oct said 200 police and soldiers being deployed to Southern Highlands capital Mendi to address continuing post-election violence in province, including two policemen killed 30 Sept.
Several people injured in continuing election-related violence in Southern Highlands, last seat to be declared.
Following July elections marred by violence and irregularities, Peter O’Neill reappointed for second term as PM 2 Aug, day after supreme court threw out application to have his election declared void. O’Neill promised to conduct review of electoral process. Govt bolstered security in two highlands provinces affected by continuing violence during month; as of 22 Aug at least 21 people reported killed in election-related violence.
Voting in general election closed 8 July amid ongoing reports of irregularities and violence in some areas. PM O’Neill’s Ruling National Congress party won move votes but no outright majority; O’Neill invited late month to try and form coalition govt.
Two-week voting process began 24 June in general election amid reports of irregularities and violence in some areas; voting suspended in capital Port Moresby after police discovered evidence of bribery and fake ballot papers. Opposition called for electoral commissioner to resign; PM O’Neill called for calm, said election will go ahead.
PM O’Neill, facing calls to resign over corruption allegations, 22 July survived no-confidence vote in parliament by 85 to 21 votes. Vote came amid strikes by airline pilots, transport workers and medics, with civil society groups pledging to continue protests.
Police opened fire on student demonstration in Port Moresby 8 June, leaving dozens wounded; protesters were calling for PM O’Neill to resign over corruption allegations. Court 9 June granted injunction barring students from protesting on campus; students 23 June clashed with security forces, burnt cars and trucks. Govt 28 June established inquiry into violence, imposed curfew on two university campuses.
Some 1,000 protestors 24 June gathered in Port Moresby in defiance of police protest ban, called for PM Peter O’Neill to answer corruption allegations and for reinstatement of anti-corruption task force chief Sam Koim.
Govt mid-May started resettlement of “genuine” asylum seekers from Australian-backed Manus Island detention centre; Australian report on mid-Feb riots in camp released 23 May, called for increased security; report criticized by PNG police as “cover-up”. Triumph Heritage Empowerment (THE) Party divided after dismissal of THE leader Don Polye from PNG Treasury and Polye’s move to opposition; 3 MPs resigned from party mid-May.
Army faction supporting former PM Michael Somare 26 Janstagedmutiny, put military commander under house arrest, demanded Somare’s reinstatement. O’Neill declared mutiny over when military commander released later that day.
Constitutional crisis after Supreme Court 12 Dec declared PM O’Neill illegitimate, ruled Michael Somare, replaced as PM in Aug while in Singapore for medical treatment, still in office. Crisis resolved after governor general gave support to O’Neill.
16 killed in late Jan, early Feb tribal violence in Southern Highlands Province, Port Moresby outskirts; violence reportedly related to land disputes over liquefied natural gas project under construction. Local media said 300 armed villagers clashed with police near project 6 Feb; no reported casualties.
Government declared state of emergency in energy-rich Southern Highlands province. PM Somare said troops deployed to restore law, order and good governance in province after suspending provincial administration for alleged corruption.
Australian police to return to PNG as part of revived aid package, but will not have frontline duties, avoiding immunity issue that stalled program in May. Opposition leader Peter O’Neill arrested on charges of conspiracy an misappropriation connected to alleged involvement in defrauding investment fund.
Former Bougainville rebel leader Francis Ona - advocate of complete independence - died 24 July, possibly aiding island reconciliation. PM Michael Somare declared desire to sever country’s “umbilical cord” of dependence on Australia.
Australia remained committed to suspended Enhanced Cooperation Program, but will not drop insistence PNG amend its constitution to allow Australian police immunity from PNG law and prosecution. Presidential election held successfully in autonomous Bougainville region.
Australian police, part of program to address growing lawlessness, withdrawn after Supreme Court decided visitors’ legal immunity unconstitutional. 60 reported killed in tribal fight in Western Highlands 27 May.
Ombudsman Commission started legal action to force Somare government to recall parliament adjourned in January (to avoid vote of no confidence).
PM Sir Michael Somare awaits ombudsman’s decision on validity of January parliament adjournment (to escape vote of no confidence). Only 8 out of 300 Australian police and civil servants deployed as part of program to address growing lawlessness - further deployment delayed by parliamentary hiatus.
Legality of 5-month adjournment of parliament questioned by ombudsman. Government adjourned parliament to escape vote of no confidence after failing to amend constitution. Deployment of 300 Australian police and civil servants to address growing lawlessness as condition of Australian aid program to take place within weeks.
Arrangements finalised 11 December at bilateral summit for Australia to deploy around 300 police, judges and administrators to address growing lawlessness, as condition of U.S.$220 million Australian aid program. Draft constitution, proposed by Bougainville leaders to resolve final status of semi-autonomous province, being considered by Bipartisan National Committee. Third stage of weapons destruction by Bougainville rebels in progress under auspices of UN-chaired Peace Process Consultative Committee; UN political office to be replaced by smaller observer mission mandated until June 2004 to oversee constitutional process and weapons disposal.
Australia to deploy administrators, public sector specialists and 200-300 police to address growing lawlessness, as condition of U.S.$220 million Australian aid program. PNG government unhappy at conditionality of Australian aid but formal agreement expected at December bilateral meeting. Opposition leader and former PM, Mereke Morauta, called for Australia to strengthen conditionality. Draft constitution, proposed by Bougainville leaders to resolve final status of semi-autonomous province, being considered by Bipartisan National Committee. Secessionist conflict claimed 20,000 lives between 1988-97.
Australia to deploy administrators, public sector specialists and 200-300 police to address growing lawlessness, as condition of U.S.$220 million Australian aid program. PNG government unhappy at conditionality of Australian aid but formal agreement expected at December bilateral meeting. PNG government calling for additional assistance with police reform. Draft constitution proposed by Bougainville leaders to resolve final status of semi-autonomous province dubbed “flawed” by PNG Attorney General. Secessionist conflict claimed 20,000 lives between 1988-97. Government to seek extension of Bougainville UN observer mission for additional six months.
Australia to deploy administrators, public sector specialists and 200 police to address growing lawlessness. Deployment is condition of Australian aid program of U.S. $220 million. PNG Government unhappy at conditionality of Australian aid.
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