Secessionist and Separatist Movements in Papua New Guinea

There have been serious secessionist or separatist movements in the North Solomons, Papua, and East New Britain. In the North Solomons the movement was triggered by the colonial Administration’s failure to consult the Bougainvillians about mining exploration (1964) and a copper mining agreement (1967). In September 1968 a meeting of North Solomons parliamentarians, public servants and students, formed the Mungkas (Black Skin) Society to fight for secession. In 1969 a secessionist political group was formed on Bougainville. In 1973 Chief Minister Michael Somare was forced to agree to the establishment of a North Solomons Interim Provincial Government. In September 1975 political activists unilaterally declared an independent Republic of North Solomons and sent a delegation to the United Nations to seek recognition of the new state. These events were non-violent and the national government took no action. The United Nations did not recognize the republic. A nationally recognized North Solomons provincial government was elected in 1976. However, many Bougainvillians continued to feel that they were not receiving adequate returns from the mine. In 1988 militants formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) which forced the closure of the mine in 1989 and took over the province. On 17 May 1990 Francis Ona, leader of the BRA, unilaterally declared the North Solomons to be the Republic of Bougainville. There has been no international recognition of the new ”state”. By mid-1993 the national government had regained much of the province.

In Papua, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was an independence movement based on the fear that Papuan interests would suffer if the region were forced to join with New Guinea in a single state. This movement was led by Josephine Abaijah who established Papua Besena to pursue the aim of secession. In March 1975 Abaijah declared Papua to be a republic. The movement was mostly peaceful and the national government took no action.

Another secessionist political party, the Melanesian Independence Front (MIF), formed in Rabaul, East New Britain, in October 1968, advocated the formation of a country called “Melanesia”. “Melanesia” was to include all four of the New Guinea island districts (Manus, New Ireland, New Britain and Bougainville) with Rabaul as the national capital. The MIF chairman was Mr Vin To Baining, a former co-chairman of the PANGU Pati, and it was thought to have some European backers. The group failed to attract support and collapsed.

A more significant movement in East New Britain arose from the dissatisfactions of the Mataungan Association with Administration policies particularly land polices. In May 1971 the Association called for self-government for the region. The movement subsided when some of its demands were met by the Administration and some of its leaders were elected to the national parliament.

The Australian Minister for Territories, C.E. Barnes, appeared to recognize that there was a danger that secessionist movements would fragment the fledgling state. In November 1968 Barnes called for unity and announced that cooperation among regions was a condition of Australia’s financial support for development programs. In May 1971 Administrator L.W. Johnson, in a statement authorized by Barnes, also warned of the dangers of disunity. Australian governments have continued to encourage national unity.

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