LEONARD FONG ROKA
LAST SATURDAY ON THE hot and shimmering streets of Arawa, a jubilant bunch of former Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) fighters stood reading a PNG Post Courier article entitled, Asians warned to leave (9 October 2013, p 23).
Most joyous was Francis Duaung (pictured), the only fighter wounded in the January 1990 dawn raid on the former Kuviria Detention Centre 30 km north of Arawa, that saw the killing of six non-Bougainvillean warders.
Duaung was shot in the head in the action and recovered in a Honiara, Solomon Islands, hospital after an operation to remove shotgun pellets stuck in his skull.
He also lost his blood brother and three cousins to PNGDF bullets and says he is not satisfied with how Bougainville has being driven by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and Papua New Guinea.
In the newspaper story, the Bougainville Veterans Association, an umbrella body made up of ex-combatants from North, Central and South Bougainville who fought in the 10-year Bougainville civil war, called on Asians operating business singly or in partnership with locals to pack up and leave Bougainville.
“The foreigners, especially Chinese nationals, were involved in retail, wholesale, and fast food, which local businessmen were in,” the Post-Courier story said.
“The association said this posed a threat to the peace process because locals tended to take sides—some with foreigners while others opposed foreigners. This has brought instability to some parts of the region, especially in Central Bougainville.”
Veterans like Duaung have joined with local Bougainville businessmen who claim that, since taking office, the ABG had let Asian and other foreign businesses rob Bougainvilleans and give back nothing. They are comparing the situation to the old days of Bougainville Copper.
The Veterans Association is putting pressure on the ABG to make a decision to pass reserved business legislation at a meeting tomorrow.
It says that businesses the ABG must protect for Bougainvilleans include:
Retail trading, including trade stores, canteens and takeaway food bars or eateries
Supermarkets, liquor supply and import including brewery and distillation of liquor
Guest houses and hotels up to three star status
Wholesaling and merchandizing in any white goods, consumables and building hardware materials
Fuel supplies and fuel stations, including import of oil products
Alluvial mining and gold trading
Commodity exports of cocoa and copra primary and secondary products
Cocoa and coconut plantations and other cash crop development
Dealings in handicrafts and artifacts including the export of such items
Timber production and exports
PMV and freight transport including trucking and earth moving
Marine products extraction and exports
Fisheries and fish exports
Tourism and tour operators
Any manufacturing, including cottage industries with cash capital value of K100 million or less is also prohibited and exclusively reserved for Bougainvilleans
Partnerships and joint ventures in any of the above activities are prohibited
The fighters have called on the ABG not to issue trading license to Asians and other foreigners in any of these activities and also said all Asian and foreign businesses must shut down and move out of Bougainville.
According to Duaung, the main concern is that the ABG is not protective of Bougainville.
“The ABG knows we fought and died,” he told me, “but it is not interested in upholding the reason our 15,000 people died.
“We died for independence and that means we must be self-reliant and not be like PNG that these Asians now control.
“This drive aims to protect Bougainvilleans and teach ourselves how to do business and be self-reliant to build our country.”
To many people like Duaung, the ABG is selling out Bougainville because it fears threats from a few foolish people and does not recognise the strength of the majority of Bougainville people it has behind it.
There is a feeling that political creativity is lacking in the ABG.
Since Bougainville combatant leaders like Ishmael Toroama, Chris Uma and others have recently reconciled, veterans say the ABG is now safe.
And according to Panguna man, Francis Duaung, the veterans have more plans to save Bougainville.
“We have presented the demands to our government and, once done, we will remove the Asian and other foreigners from Bougainville.
“The next lot to pack and leave will be redskins [other Papua New Guineans] who shamelessly come here for jobs as if they had compensated us for the killings on our island and blockading us for ten years.”