Taiwan vows close cooperation with PNG autonomous region

09/26/2020 06:08 PM
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Ishmael Toroama. Photo from facebook.com/ISHMAELTOROAMAforPRESIDENT
Ishmael Toroama. Photo from facebook.com/ISHMAELTOROAMAforPRESIDENT

Taipei, Sept. 26 (CNA) Taiwan has vowed to work closely with Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea, in several fields after a rebel-turned-peacemaker and farmer was elected its new president on Wednesday.

Ishmael Toroama, a former commander of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, laid down his arms and signed a peace agreement with Papua New Guinea (PNG) government in 2001. He later returned home and became a cocoa grower.

Toroama's main job now will be to lead the resource-rich region to independence from Papua New Guinea following a non-binding referendum late last year in which more than 98 percent of Bougainvilleans voted for independence.

Observers cautioned the process could take a long time to complete.

Taiwan, which is recognized by only 15 countries around the world, would not say whether it would seek to establish diplomatic relations with the region once it become a state.

For now, Taiwan's representative to PNG Oliver Liao (廖文哲) sent a letter to Toroama on Thursday, expressing Taiwan's support for him, according to a report Friday by the Post Courier, a PNG newspaper.

Liao said in the letter that the Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF), a development aid agency founded by Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), will establish an office in Buka, the autonomous region's interim capital, the report said.

Taiwan will also donate more than 2,000 solar reading lamps and 720 solar kits to schools and health centers to Bougainville, and arrange scholarship programs for students, capacity building seminars for officials, and medical and economic cooperation, Liao said, according to the report.

In a written statement responding to CNA's questions, MOFA said Taiwan's representative office in PNG has provided assistance to the country in the areas of agriculture, health, clean energy and human resource development.

MOFA said it also donated 20,000 medical face masks and other personal protective equipment to PNG's government in mid-September to help the country combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The engagement with Bougainville is part of the overall responsibilities of Taiwan's representative office in PNG," MOFA said.

The Autonomous Region of Bougainville, composed of several islands, has an estimated population of 250,000 people.

Asked whether Taiwan will seek to establish formal relations with Bougainville should it become an independent country, MOFA sidestepped the question, saying that Taiwan's office in Port Moresby will continue to develop substantial relations with both PNG and Bougainville in different fields.

(By Chen Yun-yu, Shih Hsiu-chuan and Emerson Lim)

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