IT was during the peak days of the Bougainville crisis in late 1994 that Panguna youngster, Louis Taneavi (pictured), left home to pursue his education at Buin High School, which was under the control of the PNG Defence Force in the then divided island.
It was a new experience for Louis, who died recently after being savagely attacked in Lae. In Panguna, his home valley was quite peaceful. But Buin High School was raided at will by BRA resistance fighters based in Laguai village.
The large village of Laguai, situated south-west of Buin and about an hour’s walk from the town, was home to BRA ‘H’ Company.
And when considering the 10 bloody conflict zones on Bougainville, Laguai, its sister village Malabita and their satellite villages and hamlets have their own tale to tell of their survival strategies against raids by the PNGDF and pro-PNG forces.
The territory that hosted enclaves like Laguai, mostly in South Bougainville, were surrounded by well-armed pro-PNG resistance fighters, the Australian-trained and armed PNG soldiers and PNG police. Daily they were on the butt of lethal mortar firepower from PNG forces that resulted in many casualties.
Day by day they had to fan off enemy attacks.
This was the world the late Louis Taneavi entered to pursue the education that had been halted in 1989 as the civil war broke out.
Anyway, he successfully completed his primary education in Panguna and entered Buin High School in 1994. Though he was familiar with Buin he was a stranger to his new school.
At that time the school was the main government service in Buin and most pacification and rehabilitation services were housed within the high school.
Buin High School had massive food rations, medical stocks and other services. To obviate the affects of the sea blockade, the BRA raided the school regularly to obtain vital medical services and much-needed goods like rice.
Louis Taneavi, along with the 600 other students, witnessed the BRA violently entered the school, eliminating any threat that could cause their mission to fail.
According to Louis, the first attacks on the high school happened early in 1994. The PNGDF and the resistance fighters guarded the school but this did not deter determined BRA raiders then led by the late Paul Bobby from Kararu village.
Finally, after Louis witnessed one ruthless raid in early 1996, he decided to leave Buin High School and transfer to Arawa.
As he was sitting in a classroom early one morning in April 1996, heavy rifle fire erupted on the school’s western perimeter. Seconds later, students saw a dozen PNGDF and resistance fighters rushing towards their classrooms and firing.
The PNGDF and the resistance fighters took up positions in the school and engaged the BRA from among the students.
From where they lay on the floor, the students could hear the excited shouting of the BRA and even see them taking cover and firing from the rain trees that lined the Buin-Siwai highway on the school boundary.
To their surprise the PNGDF troops and the resistance fighters suddenly fled towards a swampy depression near Maikam Creek that runs along the eastern edge of the school.
The BRA were soon in the school with all guns firing at Maikam Creek where the PNGDF and resistance fighters lay buried fearfully in the swamp.
In a planned manoeuvre, and covered by the BRA irregulars, women and men – young and old - formed a long line that seemed to stretch from the Sikabai River right into the school’s storerooms. Cartons of fish and bales of rice and medical supplies were passed from one person to another heading for the Sikabai River.
After their mission was complete, the BRA began moved backwards towards the Sikabai still firing. With a few shouts and some more gunfire, the BRA and their people left and calm crept into the school.
The late Louis Taneavi and his fellow student felt relieved but saw their storerooms were empty of all medical supplies and food rations. Their guardians were seen popping out of the swamp covered in mud, their guns jammed by mud and water.
In mid-1996 Louis and many other students from Buin High School left for Arawa.
This story was told to me by the late Louis Taneavi, my cousin who was killed in Lae recently. The picture shows Louis pointing out to me Maikam Creek within Buin Secondary School - LFR