LEONARD FONG ROKA | Supported by the Jeff Febi Writing Fellowship
“We took that to heart and never wandered towards the main road but kept in the safety of our villages and watched the erereng expand their slums further inland. This is why I went to fight the thieves that were destroying my island, Bougainville.”
Saul Korai hails from the Kapanau area near the Aropa airport in Central Bougainville. He joined the guerilla group, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), as a teenager in early 1989.
In late 1988, New Guinean squatter settlers at Aropa raped and murdered a local woman returning home from the garden and his people attacked them. “I had to join the fight.”
He was in action against the PNG government forces until 1996.
“Despite the fact that we, the fighters, directed Bougainville into a civil war that caused an alarming loss of thousands of innocent lives, the greatest achievement is that we Bougainvilleans now have the right to decide our future. It is a milestone that came about through suffering and destruction.”
That said, Saul Korai likes the peace process. “Despite the fact that we Bougainvilleans were learning the art of war and winning, the peace process was a smart decision by leaders like the late Joseph Kabui.
“We would have killed many of our own people. But the peace process made that impossible.”
But one thing Korai hates to hear is one of the three pillars of the peace process - weapons disposal.
“This was the worst thing ever done to us Bougainvilleans. It is a slap in the face for us by the New Guineans. Our own leaders sold us out to the cruel and unpredictable sting of the New Guineans.
“These guns were our freedom. Without a gun, BCL, the PNG government and others would have turned us into nobodies on our own island.
“Those beautiful mountains of Panguna would have now been a desert. My Aropa area would have being a New Guinean district.
“These guns made us seen as human beings by the New Guineans and the world. So why take them away from me and destroy my asset without giving me what I fought for?
“We fought and died for independence with guns. That weapons disposal pillar must be changed.
“I will support a strategy for a weapon-free Bougainville when leaders create a kind of museum or memorial where weapons and life stories of combatants and other cases and issues relating to our struggle can be kept safe for our children.”
Today Saul Korai is a successful cocoa farmer in the Aropa area and has bought himself a Honda Dyna truck that each day transports people from Aropa with their produce for the market in Arawa.
He keeps his beloved rifle at home. “Seeing this weapon makes me think about the suffering our island and people went through for years.
“If ABG wants this rifle back, it must make sure to keep it safe so that I can visit it and let my kids see it and know who their father was and why he become that sort of a man.
“This is the only approach to free Bougainville from weapons.”