Lessons from Bougainville

OP/ED

The Bougainville crisis did not just happen. The writing, so to speak, was on the wall for a good seven years before violence erupted. Even in the early days of the crisis, the prolonged and bloody nature of it could have been averted, but it was not.
The reason for this was really a series of stupid decisions and unforgivable neglect by those in authority at the time in national government and the Bougainville Copper Ltd.
The Bougainville Copper Agreement, signed in 1974, had contained within it a provision for a review to occur every seven years. The first opportunity for such a review fell in 1981, but there was no review.
Angry reminders were made in the media, and even in parliament, by the member for Bougainville, John Momis.

The crisis started when the second opportunity for a review, 14 years from the signing of the BCA, fell due in 1988 and it looked like nobody was prepared to do it.
When the power pylons were felled, Panguna leaders sought the way of peace but, while the people awaited an important government delegation led by a deputy prime minister to turn up, police mobile squad pounced on them and did what this squad does best – beat them up. The deputy prime minister, it turned out, was playing a game of pool in Arawa.

There had been no coordination between the government and its law enforcement agency, and an important government leader was so neglectful of his duties that an easily containable situation moved out of control.
Today, The National carries a plea, once again peacefully put, by the original landowners of Panguna to be helped in the process of their own reconciliation ceremonies which started last October.
They ask also to be assisted and to be involved in any negotiations which will determine the future reopening of the mine.

We must urge the national government, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and Bougainville Copper Ltd to fully involve the Panguna landowners in moving forward from here.
To leave them out would show that PNG has never learnt anything from the Bougainville crisis.
To that extent, we note that BCL did contribute K5,000 and the interim ABG contributed K300,000 towards the reconciliation ceremonies held in and around the Panguna area. This ceremony will be sweeping outward to cover the whole of Bougainville to bring together all parties to the conflict.

It is crucial that the national government, ABG and BCL co-fund this process. The national government, in particular, is compelled by the Bougainville Peace Agreement to actively contribute.
Under Item (F): Other matters, the agreement recognises “reconciliation and unified structure for Bougainville” as a crucial element of disarmament.

Without reconciliation, there can be no real peace as animosities, borne out of the crisis, will remain in the hearts and minds of former combatants and those who were harmed or, otherwise, displaced by the crisis.
In another part of the agreement, it is stated: “The signing of this agreement is intended to be a symbol of progress in reconciliation.” Reconciliation is the way to lasting peace.

The early success shown in last October’s reconciliation ceremonies between families of one of the first Panguna landowner leaders to have been killed, Mathew Kove, shows that the way of reconciliation is the best way forward.
Lawrence Daveona, who has written to the BCL chairman, was secretary of the Panguna Landowners Association. He had remained so throughout the crisis and was recently appointed to remain in the position on the interim PLA.

Many of the other interim members are likewise survivors from the crisis. The company just cannot accuse the landowners of being disorganised.
It has been intimated that BCL thinks the PLA is disorganised. Perhaps, that is not wise counsel. It also seems that the Bougainville coordination office in Port Moresby is uncooperative to the advances by PLA. That too is insensitive and, perhaps, the management there can be more alert.

Deal with the leaders at the talking stage, which is now. You do not want to leave it until the younger people get fed up and start agitating.
That much we have learnt from Bougainville and ought to apply it in all dealings with not only Panguna landowners but all others who today want to be heard.

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