BY KEITH JACKSON
WARLORDS ON BOUGAINVILLE - former elements of the rebel armies that conducted a murderous and destructive campaign through the island in the 1990s - still control territory, arms and, increasingly, significant parts of the local economy.
PNG Attitude contributor Leonard Roka, who writes regularly on Bougainville affairs and whose father – a non-Bougainvillean - was murdered in the civil war, has exposed who the warlords are, how they operate and how they threaten the delicate revival of what is now the Autonomous Province of Bougainville.
With the peace process gaining momentum and economic activity increasing, Roka writes, these warlords have the Autonomous Government and the Police Service rattled.
“Though with legal authority to intervene into crime situations,” says Roka, “[the Police] absolutely avoid anything to do with the ‘ironmen’. So, if the law wants to apprehend an offender, it must befriend an ironman to bring the perpetrator to justice.”
The warlords seized their opportunity to add commerce to their military efforts after the peace process bedded down in 2000. “Economic activities rapidly increased in Central Bougainville,” writes Roka, “gold and cocoa taking the upper-hand followed by scrap metal.”
He says that people were surprised when Bougainville’s ironmen deserted politics to move “deep into the economic arena”. Not that the guns were laid to rest. “On the Christmas Eve of 2011, Toroama’s men and Uma’s men had a gunfight over security rights of a scrap stockpile at Loloho. Nobody was killed but Uma escaped in an outboard motor after burning a truck.”
“These little warlords are establishing a dangerous trend to the future of Bougainville,” Roka writes. “By protecting these tyrants, we make Bougainville a safe haven for global terrorist networks and financial scam operators.
“In Bougainville we died for civil liberty, not tyranny and this ‘ironman’ environment…. If these illicit actions continue, what is the future like for our ‘Republic of Bougainville’?
“The sacrifices we made during the bloody Bougainville conflict would be just a waste of effort and time.”
Read Leonard Roka’s full article below.
We don’t want Bougainville as a land of warlords
WARLORDS ARE MILITARY PEOPLE with great political and economic power over a particular region. In Bougainville since 1990, the definition fits well.
When the founder of the Bougainville armed conflict, the late Francis Ona, lost control of the leadership in 1990, his men turned to form their own tiny spheres of influence that resulted to the loss of 20000-plus Bougainvilleans.
Even in the years after the dawn of active-peace in 1997, a few men have continued fighting for their prestige and power as ordinary Bougainvilleans watch in distaste.
Between 1988 and 1990, a certain number of the then Bougainville secessionist militants (later the Bougainville Revolutionary Army) stood out as the best fighters.
During the establishment period of the then Bougainville Interim Government in mid-1990, the Bozaar Brothers of Kongara, who were the first to attack and capture RPNGC (Police) weapons in Koromira, were popular for their tactics as were Ishmael Toroama, ex-MP of ABG Parliament (2005-2010 House), Glen Tovirika and Chris Uma. All collectively came out of North Nasioi and Kongara areas, whilst we in Panguna had none.
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 this striving for property and power; the Bozaar Brothers were ruthlessly murdered at their base, the Pineapple House building at Camp 5 on the port-mine access road.
A family of nine hardcore Bougainville Revolutionary Army brothers perished not for the good of Bougainville but because of a certain BRA man’s self-interest for control over ex-BCL, government and other property.
As a result, the gap between the BRA’s greats widened. Ishmael Toroama settled at Aropa (today he is one of the impediments to reopening Aropa international airport), Glen Tovirika had his men stationed at Arawa’s Section 17 and Chris Uma was based at the former Bougainville Copper Limited’s camp and PNGDF post of Kobuan.
My innocent redskin father was killed by the BRA on March 1993 outside Arawa by Ishmael Toroama’s followers and, soon after this episode, Commander Glen Tovirika attempted peace talks with his former men turned pro-PNG resistance fighters of Pavaire village.
It was a success, and from the refugee camps and villages of Pooma, Kupe, Topinang and Pomaua, BRA soldiers and people visited the Pavaire PNGDF and resistance post at will in late 1993. However, Ishmael Toroama’s men threaten to kill Glen Tovirika’s followers and the peace process failed.
Glen Tovirika’s 1993 peace attempts did not go unnoticed. In early 1994, Chris Uma gestured for a peace deal with Glen Tovirika’s former BRA men of Pavaire but at the initial peace meeting venue on the southern edge of this big Seventh Day Adventist village he and his men faced a gun battle and fled for their lives. The talks failed.
This drama shows clearly that we are slowly dividing Bougainville as was once attempted in Lebanon by Lebanese warlords in 1983. They gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland to divide the country amongst them. Do we need a united island?
Seeing all this happening around us, my family walked for freedom into Arawa in late 1994 just a few weeks before the 1994 recapture of the Panguna mine by the resistance forces and the PNGDF.
After a short stay in Panguna, the PNGDF withdrew and the October 1994 Arawa Peace Conference followed with the coming of the South Pacific Peace Keeping Force. This time, Ishmael Toroama grabbed the opportunity. I watched him talk peace at the Arawa High School conference venue. Glen Tovirika and Chris Uma, however, were not present.
Seeing the success of the neutral Transitional Government led by late Premier Theodore Miriung as a result of the 1994 Arawa Peace Conference, and the sharp political rift in the BRA backed Bougainville Interim Government (BIG) between the President, Francis Ona (against peace), and vice president, Joseph Kabui (for peace), Chris Uma joined Francis Ona and they reignited the dormant Meekamui beliefs to resist peace whilst Glen Tovirika supported the peace process.
It was between 1994 and 1996, that Francis Ona scrapped the BIG and installed his Meekamui Government. He promoted the notorious Moses Pipiro as the General Commander of the Meekamui Defence Force (MDF). Chris Uma remained powerless but grabbed the General Commander position when an extra-marital affair was alleged between the First Lady and Moses Pipiro.
Chris Uma was at work. Firstly he moved the No-Go-Zone checkpoint to Morgan Junction. Then he publicised names of people were not permitted entry into Panguna—all pro-peace leaders.
This prohibition resulted in the death of two of his men who were killed by Ishmael Toroama’s men and friction with Moses Pipiro, who worked to create a good reputation for himself by keeping his Meekamui loyalty and opening his arms to pro-peace leaders although he had been formally kicked out by Meekamui.
Glen Tovirika withdrew from the stage and remained faithful to the peace process. But pro-peace Toroama and Uma kept up the rivalry, joined by an artless Moses Pipiro. The three ‘iron men’ were joined in by a formerly Toroama’s man, James Nabeung.
Nabeung was not very political but inclined to doing business with a gun at his side. In the late 1990s, his network was said to have been responsible for the robbery of Elutu Trading in Buka and the daytime murder of an Agmark employee on the Buka Passage while transporting cash between 2005 and 2007. Nabeung also did work as the price controller for cocoa buyers in Arawa.
With the peace process gaining momentum and economic activity increasing in Bougainville, Toroama, Uma, Nabeung and to a lesser extent Pipiro now possess the political and economic field of Central Bougainville as the civil authority of the Autonomous Government only keeps a ‘very careful’ gait.
The Bougainville Police Service, though with legal authority to intervene into crime situations, absolutely avoids anything to do with the ‘ironmen’ of Bougainville. So, if the law wants to apprehend an offender, it must befriend an ironman to bring the perpetrator to justice.
In the public service delivery mechanism, success is also often determined by the ‘ironmen’. In 2007, for the Bougainville Administration to rehabilitate the Morgan Junction-Panguna-Jaba road, K30,000 cash and foodstuff and pigs were offered to Chris Uma. The rehabilitation succeeded to the benefit of the South Bougainville and the Panguna District people. But the concern is that, by doing this, what precedent are we setting for the future?
After 2000 economic activities rapidly increased in Central Bougainville; gold and cocoa taking the upper-hand followed by scrap metal.
To the surprise of Kieta, Bougainville’s ironmen deserted the political front and are now submerged deep in the economic arena. On the Christmas Eve of 2011, Toroama’s men and Uma’s men had a gunfight over security rights of a scrap stockpile at Loloho.
Nobody was killed but Uma escaped in an outboard motor after burning a truck. Before this in 2010, Nabeung’s men killed Toroama’s cousin and the two exchanged gunshots throughout Arawa. Does Bougainville need these men?
Finally, these little warlords are establishing a dangerous trend to the future of Bougainville. By protecting these tyrants, we make Bougainville a safe haven for global terrorist networks and financial scam operators.
In Bougainville we died for civil liberty and not tyranny and this ‘ironman’ environment. It is a right and duty of the Autonomous Government to govern within the Bougainville Constitution. If these illicit actions continue, what is the future like for our ‘Republic of Bougainville’?
The future is that all these men will attempt to cut themselves a district or two to govern for their own benefit.
The sacrifices we made during the bloody Bougainville conflict would be just a waste of effort and time.
James Nabeung died in January 2012 after this article was written