Leonard Fong Roka
The late Bougainville leader, Francis Ona, had stated this agenda by saying in the Darren Bender & Mike Chamberlain 1999 film documentary, Coconut Revolution, that: ‘My fighting on Bougainville [is] based on these factors: (1) that is, we are fighting for man and his culture, and (2) land and environment; and (3) one is, independence.’ Thus the said issues facing Bougainville that are exploitation, indoctrination and genocide were boosted by BCL mining in Panguna and the PNG ignorance of Bougainville cry since the 1960s.
In fact Bougainville struggled for self determination and its push on maximization of shares in its resources that were exploited by PNG as off 1963 led Bougainvilleans in Panguna to stand against the injustice thus in 1988 armed protest was the solution to show BCL and PNG that for Bougainvilleans, nothing should come in between them and their land resulting in the loss of 10-15 thousand Bougainville people and loss of property.
The art of war was new since the Second World War era population was not around to educate the young and Bougainville through time fighting the Australia-trained PNG army, Bougainville learned and got access to PNG military resources. Bougainville also re-conditioned WW2 ammunition and guns and used them against the enemy, the PNG military might.
And the former BRA general commander, Samuel Kauona defended this well. In the 1999 film documentary, Bougainville: Our Island our fight, Sam Kauona said, ‘All weapons that the BRA has presently are from the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. Like my weapon…there are now hundreds and hundreds of them at this point of time.’ This signifies that the BRA learned the art of warfare and took on the PNG government; in due process, the number of weapons on Bougainville increased with the fighter so loving the weapon he took at high risk.
It was a ten year civil war and generations of youngsters grew up and joined in the fighting that even the PNG army was demoralized thus getting the pro-PNG resistance fighters killing them or just snatching their weapons and joining the BRA.
Rapidly born was the gun-culture across Bougainville and Maryanne Moses, a refugee, clearly stated this by saying in the Bougainville: Our island our fight, that, ‘We have deprive the children from what was rightfully theirs; children are growing up without [formal] education, they are in a war situation…and that’s all they know.’ Evident throughout the war was the growing love of guns for so many reasons.
After many failed peace initiatives as seen in the website, Bougainville Copper Limited article, Brief History of the Bougainville Crisis, the Bougainville Peace Agreement, after a series of talks starting from the Honiara Accord of 1994, the Arawa Peace Conference of 1994 and the establishment of the Bougainville Transitional Government (1995) under the leadership of BRA advisor late Theodore Miriung who was later assassinated by the PNG army, was reached and signed in 2001.
The Bougainville Peace Agreement, unlike other previous peace initiatives, had more concrete emphasis on the gun-culture and the guns now available across Bougainville; it stands frankly that Bougainville must be free from guns.
It is stated that the Bougainville referendum to be held between 2015 and 2020 will be carried out when certain conditions are met; one of which is that Bougainville must be weapon free. These conditions are in Bougainville Peace Agreement’s Paragraph 312 (b) weapons disposal and good governance. The reason for these demands is one purpose and that is Paragraph 317 (The referendum will be free and fair).
But so far these directives had not being upheld by the ex-combatants and the new set of Bougainvilleans that love to own a gun. Many blame the Autonomous Bougainville Government for not putting efforts as one Bougainvillean lawyer said in Aloysius Laukai 2010 story, No Bougainville referendum until weapons are gone, in New Dawn in Bougainville notes ‘He said although the referendum is guaranteed under the PNG and Bougainville constitutions there first must be weapons disposal before it can take place.’ But does this goes well with all ex-combatants? Most Bougainvilleans that never set foot on Bougainville turn to be so vocal myopically. This is a question that is yet to be answered, though.
To many ex-combatants the ABG should now look at the Bougainville crisis through a Bougainville lens since the issue is still fresh in the hearts and minds of people. The so popularized 50-50 success of the UN backed weapons disposal has a reason and as Bougainvillean it is about time politicians recognized that and act.
There are still sources of conflict in the midst of Bougainvilleans as to how the ABG should function and how the peace agreement should treat Bougainville. And to Anthony Regan, in his 2010 book, Light Intervention: Lessons from Bougainville, he stated, ‘Despite agreements, diverse sources of tension and conflict usually tend to simmer, even once the main conflict is resolved—the previous intensity just finds new outlets.’ This is a normal situation for crisis environments and hope Bougainville is through these stages.
Yet on Bougainville many ex-combatants purposely do not want to throw away their guns and Anthony Regan is coming short here; and their point is that their life was risked to win these guns from the PNG government forces or others want their tales of war be recorded for the future; or that the main ambition of the war—independence—is not yet achieved.
A notable Meekamui group leader Chris Uma is one such figure against the weapon disposal exercise. He told Al Jazeera TV (2009) film, Bougainville: Reopening the old wounds, that ‘...I fought the PNGDF, I got the rifle. I grab it from the enemy [and] that is why I cannot give my arms. People who are putting their arms to containment [are] stupid.’ There is also a new wave of combatants thinking along the line of not destroying weapons but keeping them safe for the future generations to have a touch with Bougainville history.
These are the issues now Bougainville is caught with. Though weapons disposal stage 2 in Paragraph 329 (Endorsement of Weapons Disposal Plan), Bougainville had only are 50/50 percent success rate. But Bougainvilleans are not reckless gun welders against themselves in the post-conflict Bougainville.