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Dr Alexis Sarei, priest, politician & diplomat, dies at 80


THE Bougainvillean leader Dr Alexis Sarei CBE, 80, has died after a long illness.

Alexis Holyweek Sarei was born on 25 March 1934 and was a Catholic priest turned politician, becoming the first district commissioner of the North Solomons (1973-75) and president of the secessionist Republic of North Solomons (1975-76).

He was also twice premier of the North Solomons Provincial Government (1976-80 and 1984-87), later pursuing a career in national politics as Papua New Guinea high commissioner to the United Kingdom.

After returning from the United States with his wife, at the age of 76 he contested the 2010 Autonomous Bougainville Government elections, winning the Buka seat of Peit.

In 2011, his wife died and his own health deteriorated forcing the ABG to hold a by-election to replace him as he had missed three consecutive sittings of parliament.

Dr Sarei died at his home in the Notuko hamlet of Gagan village in the Solos area of Buka.

Along with other residents of Bougainville, in 2000 Dr Sarei filed a lawsuit in the United States against mining giant Rio Tinto claiming human rights abuse but the case was finally awarded to Rio Tinto.

“The passing of the late Dr Alexis Sarei signifies an immense loss to the people of Bougainville as he is held in high regard as an elder statesmen and a formidable leader during the early years of this country’s formation,” said Bougainville President John Momis.


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Peter Turner

It was with great sadness that I learnt of the passing of Alexis Holyweek Sarei, first National District Commissioner Bougainville District, PNG High Commissioner to the Court of St. James, Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, former Premier North Solomons Provincial Government, Local Level Council President and most recently Member of the Assembly of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.

During an NEC Meeting in Kundiawa in 1979, I had the honour and pleasure of accomodating Dr. Sarei, as he preferred to be known, and another lovely dude, the late Eliakim ToBolton, whose daughter is now Chief Magistrate.

In 1989 I took up residence at Buka Passage for a couple of years and became close friends with Sir Alex and his lovely Lady, Claire, who, sadly, passed away last year. We and many others were broken hearted at the passing of that wonderful woman.

My family had the pleasure of visiting and overnighting with the Sareis at their hacienda at Solos in the middle of Buka Island and enjoying many exhilarating conversations with a truly brilliant, enlightened and compassionate man.

Alexis, a very talented linguist, speaking four Bougainville languages, as well as Kunua, Motu, English and Tok Pisin, had been sent to Rome by the Catholic Church, with which he later became estranged, where he completed his Doctorate in Canon Law in Latin and his PhD in Italian, two languages hitherto unknown to him.

Alex was instrumental in promoting a peaceful solution to the explosive situation in the Trobriand Islands in the early '70's, in an active operational role, and became Sir Michael Somare's right hand man for a number of years prior to his appointment as DC Bougainville. He spoke very fondly of some Kiaps who worked for him, and less fondly of others.

He was taken prisoner by the BRA in 1991, but released because of the uproar that resulted throughout the Province.

Ill health forced him to leave Bougainville for his wife's 'ples', Los Angeles, where he secured employment as a bank guard! He returned to Bougainville in 2005.

Dr. Sarei suffered a stroke several years ago, lost the sight in one eye and his mobility. He nevertheless conducted a cheerful correspondence and maintained an active interest in international and local affairs.

Alex had celebrated his 80th birthday, though very debilitated, and passed peacefully. He is survived by his son Solomon and daughter Deborah and numerous bubus.

May Light Perpetual shine upon him.

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