Pacific island between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands which is fighting for independence from the former.
The island's area is 10,000km2 and its population 160,000. The inhabitants speak English or pidgin and are racially distinct from the people of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The island's resources include gold, silver, timber, fish, cacao, copra and notably the major Panguna copper mine.
This recent history of Bougainville is a case study in colonialism. In 1899, when the British, French and Germans had decided on their respective spheres of influence in the Pacific, the island went from the former to the latter. It became part of the grandly named Bismarck Archipelago. In 1914, control of the island went to Australia.
During WWII, Bougainville was occupied by the Japanese. In the Battle of Bougainville, it was captured by the US on their drive for the Phillipines ('Hill 700' was central to that battle).
In 1975, Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia. PNG was granted control of Bougainville against the wishes of its inhabitants. The copper mines were operated by CRA, an Australian subsidiary of British company RTZ (Rio Tinto Zinc). They have exploited the mines without care for the environment. Copper tailings from the mine have killed life in the nearby Jaba river. At the moment the mines are not in operation following sabotage.
The Bougainville revolutionary army (BRA) was formed in 1988 to fight a seccessionist war with the Papua New Guinea defence force (PNDF). In 1990, Bougainville declared independence and the Bougainville interim government formed (inevitably leading to the acronym BIG-BRA). The BRA gained ground limiting PNG forces to coastal areas. The then prime minister of PNG, Sir Julius Chan, started an economic and communication blockade in cooperation with the Australian government. This made it extremely difficult for journalists to report on the conflict, earning it the name "The Unknown War".
The prime minister then hired foreign mercenaries from South Africa "Executive Outcomes", a subsidiary of Sandlines International. This proved to be his undoing. The racial aspect of South African soldiers being sent to subjugate the dark skinned people of Bougainville, in addition to the the high salaries they were to be paid, united the people of Port Moresby and the PNG army against Sir Julius Chan who soon resigned.
New Zealand has been instrumental in brokering a peace between the two sides. On January 20th, 2001 the PNG and Bougainville reached agreement on an independence referendum to be held within 10 to 15 years. It is conditional upon the disarmament of the BRA and the phased withdrawal of the PNG army.