mr. zilla goes to town

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sankamap long Bougainville

Todei mi hamamas tru long harim ABC news long nambawan eleksin long autonomous govamen blong Bogenvil i pinis, na eleksin bin wokim bigpela man Joe Kabui President long Bogenvil.

Ehh my tok pisin’s getting a bit rusty... anyway... it’s been coming along in its own sweet Melanesian time since the ceasefire in the Bougainville crisis (secessionist war) in 1997 and the Peace Agreement in 2001, but there’s finally been a government elected in the now autonomous province of Papua New Guinea.

For those that came in late, I spent a bit of time with the multinational Peace Monitoring Group in Bougainville in 2002-03, primarily working on verifying the disarmament of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Bougainville Resistance Force. In other words, attempting to ‘secure’ the occasional piece of hardware like this...

But more commonly, moving craftily home-made as well as factory-made high-powered automatic weapons through a staged and UN-verified containment process. Below's how I spent Christmas Eve, 2002: Mr Z with BRF Atamo platoon commander Halbert T, Hevilift loadmaster Stu B with a trunk of a dozen or so rifles enroute to Stage 2 containment on a hilltop in Paru Paru. Halbert was a fantastic bloke who really gelled with what was going on. (I gave him my pair of ADF issue boots before I left, which will hopefully prevent him from accidentally cutting his foot off in future, like he almost did one day pruning his garden with his Bougainvillean swissknife aka four foot machete.)

While there’s been the occasional container break-in since, the disarmament worked well enough and long enough that the UNOMB Director was able to verify Stage 2 to the PNG government, and thereby allow passage of legislation creating Bougainville’s autonomous constitution through the PNG parliament. So the elections for president are complete, and big Joe Kabui has been elected president – to no one’s surprise I imagine. Here’s the one picture of President-elect Kabui I have.

What’s most remarkable about recent developments I think is the context that the father of the militant independence movement, Francis Ona, has come down from the mountain, literally and figuratively, and spoke publicly in support of Kabui for the presidency.

Most exciting for me is that an election booth was set up inside the Panguna Mine complex itself – during my time in Bougainville there was a ten mile exclusion radius around the mine for UN / Peace Monitoring Group activity, inside which sat Ona and his Me’ekamui hardliners opposed to any negotiated settlement of the crisis beyond complete independence from Papua New Guinea. Here are two pics that reflect about as close as the PMG got to the ground zero of the Bougainville crisis:

The Morgan’s Junction roadblock between Loloho and the head of the mine from the eastern side of the island. Those slung rifles were ceasefire violation right in front of our eyes… damnit, more paperwork…

... and wobbly shot from a helicopter flying around the western edge of the perpetually cloud-wreather Panguna No-Go Zone, that’s the mine's retaining wall on the Jaba river below the mine. Occasionally PMG helicopters would be shot at but when you’re sitting in there with such noise and vibration often we wouldn’t find out till hearing through the grapevine a few weeks later!

Anyway, that Ona came down and spoke publicly in support of Kabui in front of 200 people in main township of Arawa is amazing, but that he did it while over 2000 people were nearby at a soccer tournament speaks volumes of its own. While the Reconcilication between Kabui and Ona was a long time coming, and although Kabui’s political 2IC James Tanis was also wooing the support of Ona for his run, it seems that sitting on his mountaintop for the last seven years has turned Ona into the dog that didn’t bark.

After years of patience throughout the island as the peace process and government-building processes took root, I think the weight of expectation is now going to be firmly settled upon the new Bougainville autonomous government, and unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to have anywhere near the capacity to meet those expectations. Still I wish them all the best and one day when I’m south of the equator again might think about traveling through the island again to see how its shaping up. For now though it’s a happy day for Bougainville and one to give us all a bit of hope that with time and perseverance sometimes really shitty conflict situations CAN work out. For Bougainville its both the end and the beginning of a long road.


  • great post! (And I'm not saying that just because I fired another meme your way (though I did.)

    So you're a former officer of the fortress of the orange peaked roof?

    By Anonymous nick crustacean, at 11:46 am  

  • nope - I was just across the lake.

    By Blogger mister z, at 8:48 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home