Preventing a conflict relapse in Papua New Guinea (Bougainville)


A series of international peacekeeping missions helped to ensure Bougainville did not relapse into conflict and created a stable and secure environment for the new administration to govern the region.

The Bougainville Peace Agreement ended the fighting, but with a complete lack of state institutions and a society awash with weapons and separatist leaders, the risk of a conflict relapse remained high in the immediate post-war period. In addition, the referendum on Bougainvillean independence promised within 15-20 years in the Agreement and the introduction of autonomous governance on the islands remained sources of contention and potential sparks of conflict between Bougainvillean leaders and the Government of Papua New Guinea in far-off Port Moresby.1 As a result, the international presence that had been deployed to Bougainville during the conflict remained in place, with the Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) teams assisting with weapon disposal and verification of the ceasefire until 2003, when they were replaced with the much smaller Bougainville Transition Team.2 The United Nations Political Office in Bougainville continued its work until 2004, when it was replaced by the United Nations Observer Mission for Bougainville (UNOMB), which was tasked with monitoring Bougainville’s autonomous status, facilitating the disposal of weapons, and organising the referendum.3

Until an appropriate Bougainvillean government could be formed, the UN and PMG teams worked alongside the Peace Process Consultative Council, which was chaired by UNOMB and served to facilitate an inclusive dialogue on the peace process with the parties to the ceasefire.4 By May 2004, the peacekeepers had supervised the destruction of 81 percent of the arsenals of the two largest Bougainvillean armed groups as well as the lead formation of a separatist leader who had remained largely outside of the peace process.5 Progress with disarmament and ongoing compliance from the parties to the Agreement prompted UNOMB to determine that the security situation was conducive to holding the planned elections in May-June 2005.6 After preparing the elections and supervising their conduct alongside teams of international electoral observers, UNOMB was withdrawn and responsibility for administering the Autonomous Region was handed over to the elected Bougainvillean government.7 Although the peace built in Bougainville was disrupted by several outbreaks of violence after 2005, the international effort had prevented a conflict relapse and laid the foundations for stable governance in Bougainville.

1 Peter Jennings & Karl Claxton. “A Stitch in time: Preserving peace on Bougainville.” Australian Strategic Policy Institute Special Report. (2013) p.6

2 John Gordon & Jason H. Campbell. Organising for Peace Operations: Lessons Learned from Bougainville, East Timor, and the Solomon Islands. (Santa Monica: RAND, 2016) p.26

3 UNDP Papua New Guinea. Peace building in Bougainville: Background. (UNDP, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 31/11/2020)

4 Australian Civil-Military Centre. Partnering for Peace: Australia’s peacekeeping and peacebuilding experiences in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, and in Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. (Canberra: Australian Civil-Military Centre, 2012) p.22

5 UN. “Post-conflict Bougainville's disarmament process is progressing well, UN says.” UN News. (2004) Available at: (Accessed 31/11/2020)

6 UN. “UN official says with autonomous government in place in Bougainville, UN mandate complete.” UN News. (2005) Available at: (Accessed 31/11/2020)

7 UN Security Council. “Following 15 June Inauguration of Bougainville’s Autonomous Government, United Nations Mandate Fully Implemented, Security Council Told.” UNSCR Press Release, SC/8437. (2005) Available at: (Accessed 31/11/2020)

Start Year


End Year



Autonomous Region of Bougainville, (de jure) Papua New Guinea

UN Regional Group


Type of Conflict

Risk of a conflict relapse

Type of Initiative

Peacekeeping mission

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The governments of Pacific states and the UN




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