By Leonard Fong Roka
‘Somewhere in the middle of 1989,’ Peter Era told me, ‘we watched from Onove as the PNG army torched Kavarongnau village. Two days later, they again torched the next village of Tonanau when the people were busy preparing for a feast which they then left and fled and the army helped themselves with those pigs and food’.
Anger for these inhuman activities of a so called professionally trained army of country led Peter Era, then 19 years old, and other men form the villages to set an ambush for the Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) convoys employed by the PNGDF.
The angry men waited but the PNGDF did not arrive on time thus they left to from the first spot to set up in another location towards the foot of the Panguna mine gravel slopes that stands tall before the Tumpusiong Valley. Whilst they were on this move, the PNGDF, after torching Tonanau, snailed up by foot towards the Onove junction where the ambush was just disbanded by the militants leaving behind the trucks and the rest of the soldiers.
The PNGDF seeing no signs of militants spotted the Tabora hamlet on the opposite banks of the polluted Kavarong River and crossed over to torch the village that the owners had already fled uphill to Onove and were watching every move the PNGDF were making.
In the clearing made by the recently constructed Pirurari-Oune feeder road, Peter Era and his comrades spotted the soldiers preparing to torched Tabora so they rushed to the vicinity thinking that the rest of the trucks had gone south.
As the band crossed the road and the brawling river, the rest of the PNGDF patrol moved towards the Onove junction and spotted the militants and open fired at them forcing the Peter Era to take cover whist his partners had fled leaving him alone.
When he stood up to check the main road, there was not a sign of vehicles for the PNGDF had reversed to avoid militant fire if they had guns. So Peter Era came out of his cover and began shouting for his escaped men when a strange voice behind him called, ‘Yu singaut lo wanem?’ (What are you shouting for?).
The soldiers forgot the Tabora village and rushed at their catch with fury. They tortured him to at will till he was all blood. From his bloody swollen eyes Peter watched as a one of the soldiers exhaustedly loaded his gun to shoot him when another soldier shouted at him to get lost. Then he ordered others to tie him up and pushed him for the main road.
The good soldier was cursed from behind by dissatisfied soldiers who were trailing behind as he walked defensively behind the captive.
At the road there were already more soldiers from Tonanau waiting. As the few law-abiding soldiers guarding him were nearing the rest of the waiting men with him, the rest of the Tabora party began shouting at the waiting men, ‘Boys, kilim em ya. Kilim em!’ (Boys, kill him. Kill him!).
The waiting men rushed at him overpowering his escorts. They gun butted him; kicked him; penetrated his mouth with the barrel of their guns threatening to squeeze the trigger. As they tortured and scourged him in their midst, one of the Tabora party men left behind landed upon them, calling: ‘Klia fuckin and mi kilim em,’ (Make way, fuck and let me kill him) when a Bougainvillean soldier who was keeping his distance moved in ordering all to stop torturing the captive or he will let hell lose. ‘Displa ino hap blong kilim em,’he scolded them, ‘yupla no bin laik kilim lo hap yupla holim pastem’ (This is not the time to kill him, ‘he scolded them, ‘you should have killed him where you captured him).
The Bougainvillean soldier ordered them to place him on the truck as he watched then they left for Panguna.
On the truck, the little drive up for the Panguna mine zone, the soldiers did not event speak to each other. The men who first escorted him from the Tabora side were on the same transport with him so Peter Era felt little comfort and hope despite the pain he had to endure.
Arriving in Panguna they drove him straight to the Panguna police station upon the orders of the Bougainvillean soldier, who according to Peter Era was a good man from Buin in South Bougainville.
The BCL car that carried him and other soldiers left in the hands of the police and left.
There in was amongst other Bougainvilleans, who had also endured New Guinean torture, before him. The cell was over crowded with stench of blood.
Just like him, there were Bougainvilleans with red eyes, torn lips, swollen cheeks and signs of recent ease of crying. Each person had his own corner to man and worry to mind in defeat of demoralizing from PNG rage on Bougainville.
But after a few minutes of peace in the midst of his fellow Bougainvilleans, they all were shocked when a car outside screeched into the police car park and seconds later, some wild looking police and military personal marched with guns into the cells searching for a Peter Era.
‘Ol kok, husat Rambo Peter Era?’ (Hey penises, who is Rambo Peter Era?) They angrily shouted at the prisoners.
Peter Era was sure he will be killed; he felt like running but there was no hope trying from a cell with armed policemen everywhere. But remained silent with his eyes on them when a familiar soldier who was in the midst of the patrol that captured him figured him and ordered him out.
On weak knees, Peter Era stood and staggered to the entrance of the cell in with rolling tears of fate when stinging hands hauled him outside with more punches, gun butting and boot kicks.
As Peter Era was undergoing this inhuman scourging from professionally trained PNG law enforcers, upstairs a busy Bougainvillean police officer, whom Era says was from Buka Island, was disturbed by these strange developments.
Peter Era was pulled outside to be loaded onto a waiting BCL transport when the Buka police officer intervened.
With a small handgun ready for use, he scolded the all-redskin party of soldiers and police officers.
‘Displa em no animal blong yupla, fuckin’ yupla (This is not your animal, fuckin’ you),’ he shouted and to this, Peter Era had a sudden wave of peace covering him, ‘go na lus nabaut, idiots! (Get lost, you idiots) Em police matter nau (This is now a police matter). Sapos yupla laik, watpo yupla no kilim em lo wanem hap yupla kisim em (If you wanted it, why didn’t you kill him where you captured him)?’
The Bougainvillean policeman grabbed Peter Era and directed him into his office as the redskin soldiers and police officers stood there looking stupid.
The Buka policeman then told Peter Era: ‘These aliens are burning our homes out of nothing but jealousy; for where they come from, they live in kunai grass houses, thus they are destroying you people and the homes around here. Very reckless kind of people’.
He then told him not to worry for with his presence he was safe and he will be transferred elsewhere away from these barbaric men.
‘I hope these two Bougainvilleans read my story and find me,’ he told me, ‘for I owe them my life. Without his kind and brave Bougainvillean hearts for an endangered fellow Bougainvillean I was death in the hands of the redskins.’