Pacific Security Snapshot: 2 August 2022


Violence has stymied the Papua New Guinean election, whilst the Bougainville government has announced plans to reopen the controversial Panguna mine.

Voting in the Papua New Guinean (PNG) election continued to be overshadowed by outbreaks of violence over the last fortnight. This includes the alleged killing of 18 people in the PNG Highlands and an incident where a group of men attacked people with machetes outside a court centre in Port Moresby.

Radio New Zealand has reported that violence in the capital has since calmedenough to allow for the election to continue and votes to be counted.

Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Henry Puna issued a statementon Monday 25 July with regard to the escalating violence in PNG. Puna noted the PIF’s recent endorsement of the 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent, which aims to enhance regional cooperation as well as secure the wellbeing and security of Pacific people. Puna also called for an end to the brutality and damage displacing thousands of Papua New Guineans.

In other election news around the region, Vanuatu has elected its new President after eight rounds of voting. Nikenike Vurobaravu was elected by a margin of 48 votes and sworn into office on Saturday 23 July.

In Solomon Islands, five candidates from the 2019 National General Election have been charged for failing to submit a record of their transactions during the election. The maximum punishment for such an offence is a fine of SI$20,000 and up to two years in prison.

Additionally, the country’s central bank has urged the publicto be on high alert for counterfeit bank notes that have been circulated and intercepted by Honiara residents.

In COVID-19 related news, plans have begun to repatriate Tokelauans who have been stuck abroad, with the majority in New Zealand and Samoa. Tokelau’s borders have been shut for over two years to maintain its COVID-19 free status.

Meanwhile, Samoa’s state of emergency due to its 2022 outbreak ended on Monday 1 August, whilst Tonga’s last repatriation flight arrived in Nuku’alofa on Thursday 28 July. The Kingdom has announced that it will open its international borders for one month as a trial for a potential permanent reopening in future.

Elsewhere, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the French territory of Wallis lost their COVID-19 free status this fortnight. As a result, FSM decided to open its borders on 1 August.

Turning to climate security, Alok Sharma, President of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP) addressed the PIF Secretariat in Fiji last week. Sharma advocated for continued cooperation from Pacific Island countries and encouraged the unique voice of the region to be present in the leadup to and during COP27.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she would lead a delegation to Samoa on 1 August to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship between the two countries.

Moreover, Niue and New Zealand have renewed their partnership agreement, promising greater cooperation on issues of prosperity, response to climate change, peace and security, and protecting Niue’s people. In the renewed agreement, the countries agreed to work together on the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.

The Australian Government has also donated distribution network equipment and funding to Tonga Power, Tonga’s only power company. The aim of the donation is to help support Tonga’s electricity grid which has been put under pressure as a result of the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Ha’apai Volcano eruption in January and ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

This fortnight has also seen major developments for a number of independence movements in the region, particularly New Caledonia’s pro-independence movement and the Free West Papua United Liberation Movement, who have signed a memorandum of understanding. This agreement is aimed at supporting each other’s missions internationally and developing a list of common goals.

There has also been an agreement in principle reached by the government of Autonomous Region of Bougainville in PNG and landowners to re-open the Panguna Mine. The mine was closed in 1989 during the Bougainville conflict, when conflicts surrounding its operation escalated to violence. While talks are pending, President Ishmael Toroama has been working to ensure landowners in Panguna are properly reconciled. The first part of this reconciliation took place on 21 June at a dawn service led by the Bougainville Council of Churches at the Panguna Mine Pit.

n other PNG mining news, campaigners have had some success stalling the development of a copper and gold mine in the country’s Sepik region. The complaint argues that the company, Pan Aust Ltd, had failed to get consent from local communities to develop the mine.

Finally, in the Northern Mariana Islands, a United States Government-funded project to build a protective barrier at the Garapan Fishing Base broke ground on Thursday July 28. The project is aimed at reducing erosion and improving water quality in the Saipan Lagoon.

The information in this piece is accurate as of 12pm (AEST), Friday 29 July.

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