TO THE STATE OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA, Rio Tinto and Bougainville Copper Limited, Bougainvilleans were nobodies of the Solomons who had to be stripped of their resources to finance PNG and its citizens, people neither geographically nor ethnically related to Bougainvilleans.
The three entities did not seem to realise that Bougainvilleans were humans who were adaptive to negative or positive changes and needed to be given the opportunity to absorb the externally driven changes to their land and society.
The late Francis Ona, Bougainville militant leader, with all the pressures of change on his shoulders rushed his numerous goals. History will agree that his ambition for a better Bougainville was not strategically sound.
In an article, A civil war of resources (Post-Courier, 23 August 2013, p 10), Bougainvillean teacher Lance Itta implied an organised manoeuvre by Ona when he tasked Philip Takaung to recruit militants. But one has to ask did he mean to turn the Panguna crisis into a civil war?
The answer is simple: the players were incapable of politically leading Bougainville out of the vacuum created by the departure of PNG state institutions and the demise of the provincial administration.
Let me turn to my PNG Attitude article of February last year, We don’t want Bougainville as a land of warlords:
All these great military men of Bougainville - although at first fighting to get rid of Bougainville Copper Limited, Papua New Guinea and its Redskins - went off-track in mid-1990.
This divide was created by the late Francis Ona’s inability to administer and control his men and therefore to control Bougainville.
Fighters forgot our cause of freedom and went for war-gains. Think about Ishmael Toroama’s words in the video documentary Coconut Revolution: ‘When I fought everything got into hands….
Did we fight for personal property or peoples’ freedom? Often, at gun point personal property was removed from owners or guardians; Bougainvillean women were raped, innocent persons were killed….
In May 1989 the Panguna mine was closed and PNG declared a state of emergency on Bougainville, sending its undisciplined Defence Force to fight Bougainville rebels. In March 1990, a ceasefire was reached and international representatives observed the withdrawal of the PNG security forces.
If Philip Takaung was recruiting BRA militants at that time, what structure was he placing them into? What was his power of influence over these men? Bougainville did not have determined leadership from the late Francis Ona.
So in March 1990, as PNG government care centre occupants began to head home to their PNGDF burned villagers, the militants headed into urban areas to experience a lifestyle they had never had known before as liberators of Bougainville.
On one of these days, my parents were in an Arawa clothing shop known as Haus Bilas when a band of BRA men entered. My parents watched as the militants began helping themselves to new shoes, saying: “Wear shoes boys, we have frozen in the bush fighting for this land.”
But in Panguna, Francis Ona, returning from his hideout and turning his Guava village into the seat of Bougainville power, created a power structure for his militants amidst the tension he had catalysed.
Ona, now the supreme commander of the BRA, was stationed with his followers in Panguna and they lived and ate in the company facilities like the former BCL employees.
In Panguna, entire BRA companies were given sections of the township to reside in. There was law enforcement on the ground and BRA unit leaders were provided with the BCL vehicles to perform their duties. But this was a military job defined by the leaders; absent was a functional political structure.
Ona was not prepared to give away his hard-earned glory to leading political personalities like the late Joseph Kabui, who was now doing nothing in the capital Arawa.
Ona’s prestige was to be protected outright. He was guarded 24/7 by armed men and women at his village. He also had a unit of witch doctors guarding him from sorcerers and who kept evaluating his health. With that his home was being maintained.
Some BCL plants were brought in to beautify his hideout and he also took ownership of a number of expensive BCL cars and other equipment.
All this happened as the BRA watched in disbelief.
So Francis Ona opened the door for trouble. BRA men and opportunist fought each other for abandoned BCL property in Panguna, especially vehicles. After the BCL goods were done with, reckless BRA elements and other rascals looted private property. Francis Ona kept silent.
The BRA big men created their own spheres of influence in the fight for personal gain. Vehicle after vehicle and other property appeared in the backyards of BRA commanders and a few dangerous BRA men. The opportunists of had gained something for themselves.
The Guava villagers used guns to control Panguna and scare away people had begun dismantling BCL houses and other buildings to replace their village homes that the PNG government had burned.
Seeing this chaos, former PNGDF soldier and BRA leader Sam Kauona, who had left Panguna for his home in Tororei, decided to involve the Panguna brothers, Joseph Kabui and Martin Miriori, who were doing nothing in Arawa as the result of the August 1990 suspension of the North Solomons (Bougainville) Provincial Government by PNG.
Kauona also got the brothers connected with Francis Ona and, on 17 May 1990, the second unilateral declaration of independence in Bougainville history happened in Arawa with the creation of the Bougainville Interim Government (BIG).
But the BRA-engineered chaos was already out of control and beyond the capacity of BIG to manage.
Whilst UDI celebrations went on in Kieta, BRA, opportunists and their followers in other parts of Bougainville were disturbing the peace and administering their own justice on Buka Island and in much of north and a few areas in South and central Bougainville.
On 13 September 1990, the Buka people (as recorded in Outline History of the Bougainville Conflict) invited the PNG army to establish rule only on Buka and let go of Bougainville.
Francis Ona now had some myopic reason to accuse fellow Bougainvilleans of ‘Salim Bogenvil go bek lo PNG na BCL’.
The BRA then went reckless as ‘secret police’ tracked down alleged moles inside Bougainville on the orders of Francis Ona. Many innocent Bougainvilleans thus met their fate or lost their property that was confiscated as punishment by BRA elements.
This led to the birth of anti-BRA groups, the first of which was the Buka Liberation Force (BLF) created on Buka Island.
Under the nose of Francis Ona and his BRA, Bougainvilleans turned against each other.
Bougainvilleans hunted and killed each other throughout the island as Francis Ona and Joseph Kabui played their own politics in Kieta, with no control over the whole island of Bougainville.