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11 June 2018

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I'll qualify the comments below by saying that I have never set foot on Bougainville.

It is not just one mine that is in play, a large part of Bougainville is prospective for other porphyry copper deposits like Panguna and, off the west coast, for hydrocarbons.

It is these prospects that would be the bait to allow a possible re-opening of Panguna by a reputable operator, after the necessary re-assessment has been done.

Given this and the O'Neill government's propensity to make sows' ears out of silk purses, I cannot really see any Bougainvillean voting for anything but secession.

I imagine that many ordinary Bougainvilleans are dreading what might happen if the referendum is unsuccessful. They are thinking, could it all happen again?

All the elements are there for another civil war. There are mining companies pushing to re-open the mine and there are factions within the community arguing about the potential spoils.

On top of that the PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill is running a destabilisation campaign by saying that even if the result of the referendum is yes PNG may not recognise the outcome.

2019 is going to be a torrid year in Bougainville and the unrest could spread much wider.

I've seen no indication that Australia is gearing up for a bad outcome but that doesn't surprise me.

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