PM O'Neill: Bougainville's Aropa airport to be re-opened in December

07/10/2011 04:53

A lone standing radio tower at Aropa airport in the autonomous region of Bougainville. A brick structure, which can be

seen in the distance, is all that remains of the Air Niugini terminal which was destroyed during the 10-year conflict.


Aropa airport, the international gateway to the shut Bougainville copper mine, will be re-opened in December.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said this yesterday when concluding bilateral discussions with his Solomon Islands counterpart Danny Philip in the PNG capital Port Moresby.

He said PNG and the Solomon Islands have agreed to cooperate on a number of joint border development programs, which would see the establishment of border posts at strategic locations along the border between the autonomous region of Bougainville (AROB) and the Solomon Islands.

The two leaders have agreed to hold a joint PNG-Solomon Islands cabinet meeting in the AROB in early December. The joint cabinet meeting, the first of its kind between the two neighbouring Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) nations, will coincide with the official reopening of the airport.

Mr O’Neill said the PNG and Solomon Islands national airlines – Air Niugini and Solomon Airlines – will schedule two special flights to Aropa on the day of its official reopening.

Arawa-based Bougainvilleans, speaking on condition of anonymity to Papua New Guinea Issues in Perspective, said work is yet to start to clear the airport in preparation for its re-opening.

The airport was the scene of heavy fighting during the 10-year Bougainville Crisis and is overgrown with bush. A burnt out brick structure is all that remains of what was once the Air Niugini terminal as well as a lone standing radio tower.

The venue of the joint PNG-Solomon Islands cabinet meeting is yet to be confirmed but it is likely to be held in the former Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) mining township of Arawa, not far from Aropa airport and the Panguna copper mine.

The Somare government had indicated last year that it envisaged the mine re-opening in 2012 at the cost of US$4 billion; however Rio Tinto has reportedly said it did not have a time-table to open the mine.

The O’Neill government, which came into office in August, is unlikely to announce any major policy decisions relating to the mine's re-opening until after the 2012 general election. Though, that is dependent on the coalition government winning re-election to office.