LEONARD FONG ROKA | Supported by the Jeff Febi Writing Fellowship
Tampara is a Nasioi word that means ‘good’, so the military code name stood for ‘Operation Goodness’ or ‘Operation Bringing Goodness to Bougainville’.
But it was damning for old Charles Bangki (pictured) of Mosinau village in Panguna who had fled as a refugee to the Kongara 1 area of the Kieta District.
For Charles and the other people of Kieta, the name of the operation was a contradiction. In fact, it hardened people’s minds and hearts against the PNG government and against New Guineans and Papuans.
By the end of the operation, the villagers fully supported the militancy led by Francis Ona.
The PNG government’s brutality against the Bougainville people, who were fighting against PNG and Bougainville Copper Limited’s exploitation of their island, was fierce. The government and BCL supported each other to suppress the militancy for once and for all with every measure available.
The government security forces, as they were known, torched villages and looted gardens; used airborne machine guns, deployed mortars against civilians and killed innocent people.
Two of the many victims were Mrs Maria Bangki and her two-year old daughter, Joyce Bangki.
Upon their arrival in May 1989, the PNGDF concentrated their energies in the areas surrounding BCL’s Panguna mine in the hope of arresting rebel leader Francis Ona.
They began their unlawful acts of torching villages from the west of the mine site, in the Tumpusiong Valley.
When Australia donated four Huey helicopters, the PNGDF took the inaccessible villages of Widoi, Poaru and Mosinau in the Toio River valley, east and south-east of Panguna.
The PNGDF attack on the Toio Valley was overwhelming for the war-primitive militants who had no high-powered guns or mortars.
With mortar platoons perched on the Guava-Kokore ridge shelling the valley below and hovering choppers raking heavy machine gun fire upon the jungles, the government troops torched villages alongthe Toio Valley.
It was then that Charles Bangki and his wife Maria decided to flee for safety with their children to the Bougainvillean highlands in Kongara 1.
In the Kongara area, the family were refugees but safe.
But in October 1989, the PNGDF choppers began routine daily visits into the highlands of Bougainville. Government troops began visiting Sipuru and Kakusira villages in Kongara 2 by road, blocking off Kongara 1.
On a late October morning, the government forces raided the village of Tairima that was a few minutes’ walk from the Bangki family at Dopari. Stunned villagers watched from a distance as the soldiers burned down their homes.
By midday, mortar platoons engaged Dopari village. The Bangki family and the people fled into the inhospitable jungle. Here they erected makeshift shelters to hide from killers and looters.
From the safety of the jungle, they watched as Dopari village went up in flames. People wept for their assets. Then helicopters opened fire on the jungle, keeping the people on the run.