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BOXING DAY IN BUKA

 
 

When people are deprived of their rights it is natural to resist – and when injustice becomes law, resistance is justified and becomes a duty. The people have been made landless, poor, denied access to health care and education. Resistance becomes their only form of expression.

Moses Havini 1995

     

Buka. It sounds like something that comes out of your nose. So why was Dogster in Buka on Boxing Day?

Zapeederbloodybada.

This man was everywhere; aviation, health, tourism, philanthropy, education, the missionaries; it turns out my grumpy captain was a Member of Parliament as well. Right now he was Minister for both Provincial Affairs and Bougainville. In his new role as Paramount Chief Masalahana my Christmas captain had spent the last few years brokering the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

‘Look,’ I could hear him saying, ‘if you’ll just give up your guns, I’ll bring you tourists!’

Zappeeder was a man of his word.

*

 

The people of this island are racially distinct from the people of New Guinea. They are really Solomon Islanders; it’s a whole different thing. One only has to look at the faces, a map and the color of their skin.

The poor buggers were made only part of New Guinea by a quirk of colonialism. Germany occupied and claimed the island before WWI and after the war it was made an Australian protectorate by the League of Nations pending the restoration of independence to the people – but Australia made its protectorate part of its neighbouring colony of New Guinea.

In 1964 there was a major copper discovery on Bougainville Island. A mine was established at Panguna, about fifty miles south of Buka, where Dogster now lay at anchor. When New Guinea was given its independence in ’75, it was also given the land and people of Bougainville. Between 1972 and the mine’s closure seventeen years later, it produced a whopping forty-five percent of Papua-New Guinea’s export earnings – so it was in nobody’s interests to attend to that nagging matter of statehood. No wonder they were pissed off.

The copper mine inflamed secessionist sentiments further. Bougainvilleans were denied what they saw as fair compensation and share of mine profits. The land was theirs; the PNG Independence Constitution promptly stated that land ownership was to just below the surface and that mineral rights belonged to the state.

‘…we never understood the absolute destruction, degradation and pollution of our land, sea and air environment that was to follow…

More to the point, Bougainvillians could see huge amounts of money coming out of a hole in the ground – their ground – and they weren’t seeing any of it. Blind Freddy could work that one out.

Francis Ona, then an unknown employee of the mine led a hopeless revolt; it was the Bougainville Revolutionary Army against the world. Ona hovered somewhere between genius and megalomania but he led a surprisingly effective force. He wanted to shut down the Bougainville Copper Mine. Boom. The landowners blew-up the pylons carrying electric supply lines to the mine from the coast. Brilliant strategy – the mine immediately ceased operation.

PNG declared a State of Emergency and promptly sent in the Special Forces. Goliath met David. An invisible war that spanned nearly a decade began. By 1990 thousands of people had died, and tens of thousands were displaced.

For years Ona was a hunted “terrorist” in the mountains of Bougainville, with a 200,000 Kina price on his head, dead or alive. No one, certainly not the mining company, nor its henchmen in Canberra, London, or Port Moresby, thought he had a chance.

The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) led by Ona and Sam Kauona, joined by members of the Provincial Government coordinated a campaign against the mine and declared independence for Bougainville. The populist ideology of the BRA promoted a kind of agrarian socialism with emphasis on traditional culture. The BRA became an effective paramilitary organization.

The government came in even heavier. They imposed a six-year blockade which meant mainland Bougainville was almost completely cut off from the rest of the world.

With the economic blockade imposed by PNG came the media blackout. Little information reached the outside world, internally anarchy prevailed. The PNG government failed to resolve the conflict.

‘They can control us by blocking us with medicine, schools, material things, but they can’t control our spirit,’ an activist said at the time, ‘they weren’t able to block the sun, the moon and the rain. We had the land, we survived on our land. We’ll proved to Papua-New Guinea that we can live without them, that we dpn’t need their help…‘

Meanwhile the undisciplined actions of the BRA led to disillusion among villagers, and they responded by forming resistance forces who were in turn armed by the PNG Defence Force. The PNGDF was able to reoccupy Buka island on the northern tip of Bougainville from September 1990.

But Ona wouldn’t give up. He widened the struggle. Francis made the conflict a global affair.

‘We link together with other indigenous people of the world as we continue to claim our right to self-determination, the right to conduct our own public affairs, manage our own economic and social needs in a civil society, where all peoples of the world are expected to co-exist and respect the fundamental rights of others…’

It’s the same old same old stuff. People have been bleating it for a hundred years, ever since the first glimmer of understandings that these ‘primitives’ were something other than fuzzy-wuzzy angels or beasts of burden. They still bleat it now and nothing much happens – but Francis Ona achieved the impossible. Goliath met David – and this time David had the world on his side. 

 

This scurrilous account of what happened next appears on the net, hidden in Ona’s obituary. He died ‘of malaria’ in 2005.

Massacres continued, but now even the great brains in Canberra realised they were losing that war. They told their PNG servant, Prime Minister Chan: “We’ll cut our losses, negotiate”. Chan, humiliated, rebuffed, went ballistic and, without even consulting his Australian bosses, bought some British/South African “Sandline” mercenaries.

Sandline boss Lt.Colonel Tim Spicer spun Chan an “alternative war plan”. Sandlines would put down Ona, the BRA, just as it had done in Africa for other mining companies. Spicer’s gunships would kill all in central Bougainville, targetting their thousand 60 mms rockets onto body-heat identified humans. And so “recover the lost Panguna” mine.

But then in mid-March 1997 even the PNG military commander, Brig. Gen Jerry Singirok, would no longer buy Sandline’s blood-bath. Singirok realised this killing wouldn’t work, would not reopen the Panguna mine. He revolted, with the help of his officers ! And when the PNG officers became scared of their own courage, their rank and file soldiers, who’d finally had enough massacring Bougainville villagers, took over the movement, backed by the Port Moresby masses. “We support our Resisting Soldiers, and Peace in Bougainville.’

Spicer in Port Moresby got a black eye, Sandlines was thrown out of PNG and, in Bougainville, Francis Ona recognized a historic moment. He held out his hand to Singirok, his long-time PNG opponent. We shall make Peace. De Facto, this, followed by much de jure talking, ended the war. The Bougainvillians had won; Rio Tinto, Australia, had lost.

http://www.counterpunch.org/watts07302005.html

On 30 April 1998, the parties agreed on a permanent ceasefire agreement.

 Ona’s band played on.

 CLICK ON THE NEW-LOOK FRANCIS FOR VIDEO 

On 30 August 2001, a comprehensive Bougainville Peace Agreement was signed in Arawa. The Agreement included a weapons disposal plan and provided for elections for the establishment of an autonomous government on Bougainville. It also provided for a referendum, 10 to 15 years after the election of an Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), on the question of Bougainvillean independence.

 

The local cops made sure that the tourists stayed unmolested. The streets were deserted. If a tumbril had found its way to Buka it would have rolled down the main street unobserved. One man lay asleep on a bench. A dog pissed lazily on the corner of Bradley’s Hungry Spot and ambled sideways down the road.  That was about it. Dog had a long, lonely time to absorb the Buka experience – there were no friendly natives here, just a shallow strip of water connecting us to the main island, a sea of blue shipping containers and some of the blackest people I’d ever seen. Overnight we’d moved from cappuchino to expresso..
.

Dog stretched that Buka experience to the furthest available limits till even he had to admit that this place was just awful.

The ghosts of a decade of struggle hung heavy on Buka.

Wherever the white men poked their noses, for whatever reason, good or bad – they left as their legacy rusting corrugated iron, tinned meat and Christians. On Bougainville they left Buka.  There’s a strange, bleak aesthetic to Bougainville. Yes, there was a sing-sing in honour of the Great Zapeederbada – but in the theatre of crates and containers, gangs, graffiti and guns, somehow it just didn’t seem the same.Yes, there was a sing-sing in honour of the Great Zapeederbada – but in the theatre of crates and containers, gangs, graffiti and guns, somehow it just didn’t seem the same. Clearly it was time to reappraise the captain of the ship. Dog had stumbled into something special.

  

  

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