Bougainville is part of Papua New Guinea and is the largest of the Solomon Islands group.
Bougainville and the adjacent island of Buka are sometimes called the North Solomons and are a province of Papua New Guinea. The population is 175,160 (2000 census).
The island is ecologically and geographically, although not politically, part of the Solomon Islands. Buka, Bougainville, and most of the Solomons are part of the Solomon Islands rain forests ecoregion.
The island was named after the French navigator Louis Antoine de Bougainville (whose name has also been lent to the creeping tropical flowering vines of the bougainvillea family). In 1885 it came under German administration as part of German New Guinea. Australia occupied it in 1914 and, as a League of Nations mandatory power, administered it from 1918 until the Japanese invaded in 1942 and then again from 1945 until PNG independence as a United Nations mandatory power.
The island was occupied by Australian, American and Japanese forces in World War II. It was an important base for the USAAF, RAAF and RNZAF. On March 8, 1944 during World War II, American forces were attacked by Japanese troops on Hill 700 on this island. The battle lasted five days, ending with a Japanese retreat.
The island is rich in copper and possibly gold. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) ostensibly reclaimed the country from corporate mining interests in the 1980s, in the form of Bougainville Copper Limited, (BCL) an Australian controlled company.
The mining activity triggered a nine-year secessionist revolt which claimed 20,000 lives. It ended in 1997, after negotiations brokered by New Zealand.
During most of the revolt the island was also under blockade, which forced the people to supply themselves with everything from power to soap. Biodiesel was refined out of coconut oil to fuel vehicles as well as building a small hydroelectric power plant out of old vehicle parts.
The resourcefulness of these people can be seen in their use of the coconut which besides biodiesel was also used for making soap, lamp oil, baskets, treating wounds and placed in the coals of a fire to act as a mosquito repellent.
The region is still striving for autonomy, motivated in part by fear of re-established corporate exploitation of the area.
On June 15, 2005 the election of the first autonomous government of Bougainville, presided by Joseph Kabui, was held.
On July 25, 2005 rebel leader Francis Ona died after a short illness. A former surveyor with the Bougainville Mining Limited, Francis Ona started the 10-year secessionist war in November 1988 with sabotage attacks on the mine in Panguna in support of demands for compensation for environmental damage.