The mine operated for sixteen years, pumping its ‘excreta’ over the surrounding land and waterways, destroying the infrastructure essential to the freedom of impacted communities.
It was not, however, universally opposed.
For instance, a small number of local men grew wealthy, relatively speaking, from the economic activity stimulated by the mine.
They formed an association to lobby the mining company and government for increased compensation, and other benefits, such as business opportunities.
Known as the Panguna Landowners Association (PLA), its leadership was made up of business people and civil servants, the most prominent of whom were Michael Pariu, Lawrence Daveona, Matthew Kove, and Severinus Ampaoi.
In their own estimation they were trying to harbour a modern, prosperous Bougainville.
Many suffering from the impacts of the industrial project viewed them as profiteers and collaborators.
In 1987 two young activists from the mine impacted community, Francis Ona and Perpetua Serero, challenged the PLA leadership to an election. They won.
To the dismay of the association’s founders, the PLA was rapidly turned into an organ that was mobilizing the discontent and anger harboured by so many over the destruction done to their life.
Using protest, sit-ins and road blocks, they demanded Rio Tinto close the mine, and pay K10 billion in compensation.
This claim rippled across the region.
In Port Moresby a government dependent on mine tax receipts faced fiscal crisis. A wider business community dependent on public spending, through both means fair and foul, faced the tap being turned off. The Australian government foresaw potential regional instability, at a time when an energetic Labour government was loudly proclaiming Australia’s capabilities as a regional hegemon in the Asia-Pacific. And the minority in the mine area who had prospered faced the prospect of their status and power being abruptly dissolved.
A surprise raid by police mobile squads – a widely feared government paramilitary unit – directed against landowners sympathetic to the new radical guard, lit the fuse.
Young men aligned to Ona and Serero went bush and formed guerrilla units, that would become known as the Bougainville Revolutionary Army or BRA for short.
Further mobile squad units were deployed. Then the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF). Australia sent over ‘advisers’, armaments, and helicopters.
BCL pressured the government to set a precedent, and adopt a hardline with what were viewed as young malcontents. They provided government security forces with accommodation, provisions, communications equipment, transport and office support.
War broke out.
Villages were burnt to the ground. Civilian areas were pounded with mortars, aerial attacks, and surprise raids. Those suspected of collaborating with the rebels were frequently tortured and executed. Internment camps were established. Areas sympathetic to the BRA were blockaded. No access was allowed even to medical supplies.
The BRA, in response, tried to rally the island around the unifying theme of secession and independence. Some of those who were unconvinced by the BRA’s brand of independence formed paramilitary units, which obtained funding and arms from the national government.
These paramilitary groups worked alongside government forces to combat BRA units, which frequently meted out brutal treatment to those suspected of collaborating with Papua New Guinea, including torture and execution. They also had to contend with ‘skin BRA’, armed gangs taking advantage of the conflict to loot and threaten communities.
So began a decade of violence, destruction, trauma and loss.
The War - Further Context
In many accounts, the Bougainville conflict was triggered on 25 November 1988, when customary landowners employed stolen dynamite to wage a campaign of industrial sabotage against mine installations. This came in the wake of a prolonged social movement which used protests, sit-ins and road-blocks in an attempt to close the Panguna mine. Following industrial sabotage, the Rio Tinto subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Limited, encouraged a forceful response from the Papua New Guinea national government, through the deployment of mobile squad units, a paramilitary outfit with a well-known history of human rights abuses.
The application of state violence against landowning communities – which included village burnings, assault of civilians, and the rape of women – rapidly militarised the situation. On the one hand this saw the deployment of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF), with significant support from the Australian Defence Force (ADF). On the other hand, a guerrilla outfit emerged which became known as the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). Academics and analysts have attempted to make sense of this abrupt shift to violence by linking it to a range of grievances and conflicting interests triggered by mining, and the unanticipated consequences of certain decisions made during the period 1987-1989.
Certainly the decision jointly reached by BCL with their counterparts in the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments, to call upon the security forces proved a strategic error. The ensuing violence quickly turned a localised conflict into a province wide movement for independence.
Equally it is true that the BRA built a diverse following from communities both inside and outside the mine impacted area, who were inspired by a range of motivations. Some were reacting to the violence authored by the security forces, others were aggrieved by the growth of settler populations from the Papua New Guinea mainland, and a perceived loss of sovereignty. These immediate antagonisms frequently were attached to longer term concerns over injustices associated with the mine including loss of land, destruction of the environment, the impoverishment of landowners, the exploitation of workers, and the domination of markets by foreign actors. Collectively these concerns often found expression in ideological variations of ethno-nationalism. These forces sympathetically dovetailed with the political aspirations of several prominent Bougainvillean provincial and national leaders, who aimed to leverage the discontent to secure Bougainville a greater share in mining revenues, in addition to a specific stake in the mining industry for companies they had shareholdings in.
However, it is analytically problematic to focus on these factors alone, isolated from the deeper social currents they fermented within, which formed over the period of a century. This observational data from the 1987-1988 period captures symptoms of a deeper malady.
By focusing overwhelmingly on these symptoms academic and journalistic accounts have given causal determinacy to empirical phenomena that were in fact the effect of a bigger driver of the conflict, linked to century long set of forces instigated by the colonial project. Local theorists and analysts from the epicentre of the conflict, argue it is these forces that can only be observed through a historical frame that examines the longue durée (a long period of time) which in fact incubated the core tensions that ignited to form the foundation for a decade long war.
Having explored this longer history in series one to three, series four will focus on the events that saw the tensions it incubated assume a militarised form. To that end, the memories and theory of ex-combatants from the mine impacted area will be presented, along with personal accounts that document the circumstances that led young men to take up arms against the PNGDF, a force which was backed by the region’s ‘superpower’ Australia. The next series will register the human toll which the violence – wielded by all sides – had on communities, families and individuals.
Attention will also be given in this series to the reactions of state-corporate power, when armed resistance was experienced. Both the mining company and allied governments often underestimated the depth and resilience of the movement they were confronting, and miscalculated the impact an organised campaign of state violence would have on local protest.
The first visible embers of the sequence of events that would trigger armed conflict could be witnessed during 1987. A social movement emerged that began to organise and give voice to a long lineage of radical resistance not only to the mine, but the colonial project it was built upon. This movement found organisational form, when a number of its key leaders were voted onto the executive of the Panguna Landowners Association (PLA). The PLA was initially set up in 1979 by prominent businessmen in the mine region, who wanted to draw on the collective bargaining power of landowning communities to increase the mine revenues and benefits being retained locally. While the PLA in its initial iteration often engaged in confrontation with BCL, it was broadly sympathetic to the social and economic project which the mine was rooted in. The new executive was not. Their leaders, including Perpetua Serero and Francis Ona, cast light on the profound damage this project, and the mine, had inflicted on the social systems indigenous to the region, and the trauma this had inculcated in community members.
This led to a demand for K10 billion in compensation, an outrageous demand from BCL’s perspective. Yet it put the intolerable damage inflicted on the host society in monetary terms which the company could understand. The PLA insisted the mining company would be given five years to wind down its operation and leave the island. This ultimatum was executed through a campaign of mass mobilisation and protest, which was supported by notable customary leaders.
BCL, along with political managers from the provincial and national governments, viewed this threat as a more elaborate attempt to ratchet a bigger share of mine revenues for local communities. When their offer of further benefits failed to stop the campaign’s transition to industrial sabotage, state violence was turned to as a mechanism for bringing ‘militant’ PLA back to the negotiation table. Notable Bougainvillean politicians – including John Momis and Joseph Kabui – took advantage of the situation to lobby for lifting the existing moratorium on mining outside Panguna, and the award of exploration licenses to companies they had shares in.
When mobile squads, and subsequently the PNGDF, inflamed the situation through arrests, assaults, and village burnings, radical activists from the mine impacted communities opted to oppose these growing displays of state violence through taking up arms, under the banner of the BRA. This initially involved home-made weapons and shotguns used for hunting; following successful incursions against government patrols, the emerging guerrilla campaign increased its strike capacity. The BRA’s leadership consisted of notable figures such as Francis Ona, who is widely regarded as the revolution’s figurehead. Ona rallied against corruption, destruction of the environment, loss of culture, class power, inequality, and neo-colonisation. He sat alongside nationalist figures such as Sam Kauona and Joseph Kabui, who were more focused on ensuring the exploitation of Bougainville’s natural resources had greater local involvement.
The BRA’s Supreme Command also embarked on a political campaign to win province wide support for Bougainville’s independence, a project that would fuse together a range of social currents, not all of which sat together sympathetically. It was believed by key thinkers at the core of the BRA that independence would incubate a radical reappraisal of the colonial project, and a reconnection with indigenous social systems that had been marginalised and damaged over the previous century. International commentators denounced this core group as cargo cultists (an accusation they specifically reject), while one journalist compared them to Cambodia’s Pol Pot. Their critique of coloniality was treated as an attack on ‘education’ and ‘progress’, not in dissimilar terms to the way the Australian administration dismissed mine opposition as the natural reaction of a primitive people who cling to the past. However, the struggle on Bougainville was not seen by its participants as a retreat to the past, but as a step into the future on a sovereign footing.
Complicating matters, the Australian government was eager to evidence its role as a hegemonic power, policing the South-West Pacific in Western interests. It advocated a strong and decisive military response from the PNGDF, which Australia argued should be twinned to a political solution that allays local concerns over mine governance. ADF officers deployed to the island, acted as advisers, technicians and even line managers within the PNGDF. Australia also provided the PNGDF with a vast range of armaments and equipment, including naval vessels, helicopters and chemical weapons (white phosphorous). This was complimented by Rio Tinto; its subsidiary BCL provided the security forces with logistic assets including accommodation, provisions, communications equipment, transport, and office support.
This military support allowed the Papua New Guinea government to place a blockade, initially around Bougainville in its entirety, later it was honed to focus on BRA held areas. Impacted civilians were denied access to medicines and surgical equipment, in addition to services and imported goods. Defence planners believed that once this situation made life intolerable for civilians they would place pressure on the BRA command to moderate their objectives, and reach a political settlement palatable to the Papua New Guinea and Australian governments.
In addition, local groups opposed to the BRA, were armed and funded by the Papua New Guinea government, providing its troops with much needed local knowledge. Again anti-BRA paramilitaries were heterogeneous groupings made up of individuals reacting to a range of factors, some were resisting violence inflicted on their community by BRA units or ‘skin BRA’ (armed criminal gangs), while others were ideologically opposed to the political project announced by the guerrilla’s Supreme Command.
Nevertheless, with the Australian government and Rio Tinto priming violence, allowing a heavy presence of Papua New Guinea troops supported by local paramilitaries, all of which was set against an increasingly adept BRA albeit one with conflicting internal factions, the scene was set for a conflict whose human toll is only just starting to be recognised in its entirety (see series five).
- Premier’s Hill
A former Bougainvillean Revolutionary Army combatant, he will not dispose of his arms, yet.
‘This weapon is what the invading force, Papua New Guinea and before [that] the colonial power too, they come with to take over our land’.
‘When we want to talk about people's rights, they say we are going to talk about it over the barrel of the gun. So that's where we are standing, [over] the barrel of the gun’.
Jonah’s remark points to a long history of violence and force at the hands of the coloniser, and the state apparatus it left behind.
“…This rifle, we didn't bring it here. All those stupid people they bring it here trying to use force on us. But now when it came to our hands, we are going to use it as long as we are here, we are going to use it to defend our resources”.
Jonah has an eye for hypocrisy, and his island’s history has incubated suspicion of outsider motivations.
‘Every superpower they are holding onto their weapons, and they were telling us to dispose our arms and then they will come and destroy our land’.
‘We are the boss of ... diversity in our own land. Nobody will come and tell us what to do’.
Like Christ, Jonah argues, Bougainvilleans shed blood to redeem the land.
‘We have lost more than 20,000 of the lives here and that's enough bloodshed already’.
- Old Dapera
Peter worked for Bougainville Copper Limited.
‘One day, while they were doing the protest, one of the policemen kicked one of the women up there, right in the village’.
‘...the police were treating the people very badly, beating them up’.
‘We used to see the destruction of the land’.
Francis Ona also saw the destruction and feared it would consume Bougainville, Peter recalls.
‘And this man claimed ten billion kina as compensation’.
‘It will not be opened again’, Susan adds, Peter’s wife.
Francis Ona and his group stole dynamite. They began a campaign of industrial sabotage.
Peter was not involved at this stage.
The feared police paramilitary units known as Mobile Squads beat him anyway.
‘They would have killed me’, Peter claims, but a white colleague from BCL intervened.
Mobile Squad violence lit a tinderbox.
‘This is when I began to fight’.
‘I started to burn all the machines. I burnt all the shovels’.
“When we started the fight, we had no modern weapons: catapults, knives, fire. And bows and arrows ... [We] started using slingshots. Later on we replaced the slingshots with homemade guns”.
Munitions left from WWII were collected and used too.
‘When the army came, the conflict escalated’.
‘We were killing them to get their weapons’.
The bush was their armour, it concealed them.
‘We never travelled in vehicles, we only walked. We basically followed bush tracks ... We had no food, but the little we found in the bush’.
‘You eat a little and you stay for a long time fighting’.
Peter recalls, BRA units operated in a semi-autonomous fashion, with their own command. Combined operations would be undertaken.
‘When the ceasefire came about’, Peter recalls looking at his wife Susan.
‘Then I saw this girl, and I got her!’
- Site Village
Antony was part of an arts troupe that visited Australia in the 1980s.
He witnessed first-hand the dispossession of Australia’s first peoples. Antony saw their degraded conditions in remote communities.
When he returned to Bougainville in 1988/89, the Rambos had gone bush.
Rambos was the first name adopted by guerrilla bands that fled a police swoop and took up arms, before they became the BRA.
‘Francis Ona had gone bush then’.
Antony was young, 18. But he joined the Rambos.
‘Initially when we joined the fight, we just used slingshots, not guns’.
Like in the 1960s, the riot squads were deployed to counter local resistance.
This time ‘they burn all the houses’, Antony recalls.
Undeterred, small groups of Rambos continued to use industrial sabotage against mine installations. Antony was one of them.
He recalls with humour. They would destroy the pylons, and then get contracts from the company to repair them.
No one knew they were rebels.
“We thought if we blew up those pylons, the company would shut the mine down. They had to leave. Because we were now seeing that the mining would destroy everything”.
As the conflict grew, guns were made in the village.
‘They [PNGDF] died. We died too ... [But] we died on our land, for our land ... We were willing to die in order to redeem our land - with the blood. Our own blood’.
For Michael custodianship of the land is a duty ordained by God.
Like many others, Michael watched as the land entrusted to him was destroyed by the mine.
He formed the Bana Pressure Group.
Together with Francis Ona, Michael recalls how they collected one kina from every person who wanted them to evict BCL.
Michael collected 22,982 Kina.
‘I brought these 22,900 kinas to Francis Ona and he said: “Ah yes, very good support. Now we will start the fight”’.
‘They fought [at first] with fishing guns and bows and arrows’.
From these basic beginnings, Michael recalls, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army was formed.
- Enamira Village
‘Life was easy before the invasion. We thought it could remain that way, as CRA made promises’, Anna recalls.
Life did not remain that way.
Anna remembers protests, and being imprisoned for resisting the theft of land.
Then came the crisis.
Security forces harassed her village, night after night, week after week.
‘And then they started setting fire to our houses’.
‘Our pigs were slaughtered. Our dogs as well’.
Her community fled into the mountains, far away from their gardens and food supply.
‘As the war became serious, we were forced to live a nomadic life and suffered very much’.
‘In our journey, when we were shot at from the helicopter, we would hide under the tree's roots’.
During those frightening years, Anna longed for her home.
‘Always will you long to come back to your own place’.
Anna is now back home. She says a little prayer by her food garden where her soul connects to eternity.
Caught In The Middle
- Pokpok village
'The rebels shot one Papua New Guinea Defence Force surveillance boat. There were three of them on the boat. One was instantly dead. Unlucky, the tide was going back towards my village'.
So begins Chief Peter Garuai's story. It is his story, but it is also the story of thousands of civilians, caught between two warring parties. Suspected by both of siding with the enemy, survival was a daily highwire act.
As a community leader Peter had to convince Papua New Guinea government forces they were not party to the attack, or harbouring rebel forces. If Peter fails, the defence force will almost certainly exact revenge on his village through torture and extrajudicial killings. Peter also has to convince the BRA he is not a Papua New Guinea government loyalist.
"I am scared of both sides ... It scared the shit out of me ... A real nightmare. I read it over in books about nightmares, but I never felt it you know. But at that moment it was really nightmarish".
Peter recalls bringing one of the wounded government soldiers back to the army's base camp. Angry comrades fire their rifles at Peter's feet. There is a third man out there on the defence force surveillance craft, Peter learns. He is ordered to retrieve the body and return it. Peter does not know if he is being sent to his death, or which side will be the executioner.
- Arawa Town
Businessman and former politician, Michael Pariu, was one of the original leaders of the Panguna Landowners Association (PLA) following its creation in 1979.
In Pariu’s view if communities could be mobilized, then the mine was an opportunity. An opportunity to increase the revenues apportioned to Bougainville, and to stimulate business growth.
For his successors at the PLA, Perpetua Serero and Francis Ona, Pariu was part of a small comprador class who had been ‘brainwashed’ by foreigners, putting financial riches ahead of communal needs.
Pariu contends that he and Francis Ona, in fact, shared a common goal of securing more mining revenues for Bougainville.
‘Francis Ona and my group talked about the same things, same principles. The only difference was that Francis Ona is a militant’.
‘Francis Ona he was demanding good but BCL couldn't listen to him’.
‘BCL reckoned that Francis Ona's group was illegal’.
‘It's only the company who was trying to separate us’.
Meeting minutes and letters from the period suggest it was in fact Pariu who told BCL that Francis Ona’s group was illegal. The company was encouraged by Pariu’s faction not to negotiate with Francis Ona. They rejected his call to close the mine.
The documents suggest that the division between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ PLA may have been deeper than tactics or age.
Thirty years later Pariu now wants to reopen the mine, drawing on a World Bank loan.
“I want a loan, and we are going to open this mine ... We can raise Bougainville to something like a paradise in the South Pacific”.
The election of a new PLA Board on 21st August 1987, prompted immediate conflict. The old guard refused to go, while the newly elect wanted to refashion the PLA into a wholly more radical vehicle.
Michael Pariu, the outgoing PLA Secretary, petitioned BCL to ignore the results.
Following the election, Pariu notes that the outgoing Board ‘passed a resolution not to step down and not handover our traditional and birth-right powers’.
‘This Association shall continue to hold any discussions/negotiations with BCL’.
The new Board, Pariu maintains ‘is manipulated by so many members with personal problems, some Union Members and those expelled from the BCL’.
In a searing riposte, the newly elected Chairperson Perpetua Serero informs BCL:
“I’d like to convey to the company that the company shall cease from interfering with few self-centred traditional landlords brainwashed by foreigners and minority elite nationals”.
‘[The] company should keep out from injecting their dirty ideology’.
After this reply, the North Solomons Provincial Government entered the frame.
The Premier, Joseph Kabui, claimed ‘the Provincial Government recognizes the new executives because they were democratically elected on 21st August 1987 witnessed by Fr John Momis, Mr Raphael Bele and myself’.
Noting his disappointment that BCL continued to recognize the old PLA, Kabui warned ‘you are playing around with fire!’.
3. Letter from Joseph Kabui, Premier, North Solomons Provincial Government, Mr Bob Cornelius, Managing Director, Bougainville Copper Limited, Building 36, Panguna, North Solomons Province, 7 December 1987.
The newly elected PLA Board was not homogenous. Some wanted to see a more militant approach for extracting compensation and benefits from BCL and the government.
However, arguably the strongest faction led by Perpetua Serero and Francis Ona wanted the mine shut, permanently. They openly decried the greed, corruption, environmental destruction, and the loss of culture, that had been prompted by the mine.
Their evolving narrative voiced a deep and widespread lament shared by those living in the shadow of the Panguna operation.
The clearest signal of their more radical stance was communicated on the 5 April 1988. In a letter to the Managing Director of BCL, the PLA states:
“We the Land Owners demand that the Company pay for all the resources that you have destroyed on our land commencing in 1963 and up to 1988 in the sum of Ten Billion Kina”.
This was approximately US$12 billion.
The company would be permitted to wind up its operation over five years.
Several months later the demands were again put to BCL and the government, in a roundtable meeting held at Panguna.
The PLA argues at the meeting that the government sides with the company. It is also alleged that the political institutions of the country had become corrupted by money.
Francis Ona maintains: ‘We don’t want BCL to stay here. You are being bribed … We are not worried about money. Money is something nothing. The operation is causing hazard healthwise. We don’t want to talk anymore’.
Deploy the riot squads
In the early hours of 26 November 1988, Bougainville Copper Limited’s (BCL) Managing Director received a phone call.
A campaign of industrial sabotage had begun, after landowners had failed to persuade the company to leave through protest and direct action.
Senior Papua New Guinea Ministers met immediately with the company to organise their response.
These minutes summarise the conversation.
BCL labelled the sabotage ‘highly organised terrorism’.
The company contends:
“Was necessary to have at least two riot groups and special flight arrangements to get them to Bougainville today”.
The Minister for Minerals and Energy agrees, but suggests the government could announce a review of the agreement governing the mining operation. BCL reject this proposal.
It would ‘be seen as a victory by those who committed the acts of terrorism’.
BCL argue Francis Ona must be excluded from any future negotiations.
‘I believe it is important to re-look at the Landowners executive and make sure they are the true representatives of the Landowners actually on our leases’.
Michael Pariu is pointed to as a preferable figure.
CRA's ultimatum to the prime minister
Mobile squad units were rapidly deployed on Bougainville in the aftermath of the sabotage attacks.
However, BCL’s Chairman Don Carruthers was informed by Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, a peace delegation would also be sent to Bougainville.
In a letter to Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia (CRA) Directors, by his own account Carruthers was infuriated by the proposal.
“The PM’s priority was to ‘appease’ the landowners. I expressed the view that CRA would want to review its assessment of PNG as a place to invest. In all, it was an unsatisfactory meeting”.
Carruthers accuses the Minister for Provincial Affairs, John Momis, of being a militant sympathiser.
Going one step further, Bougainville’s Premier, Joseph Kabui, is accused of ‘orchestrating the militancy’.
Carruthers warns that the government ‘seems unwilling or unable to asserts its authority’.
More mines for Bougainville
Not everyone lending support to the group sabotaging BCL operations were motivated by a desire to close down industrial mining on Bougainville.
For Bougainville’s Premier, Joseph Kabui, it was an opportunity to open up the rest of the island to mining.
In a letter to Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Kabui contends that a previous moratorium prohibiting any further mining on Bougainville should be dropped.
‘This request for the lifting of the moratorium is conditional upon our venture company (Bougainville Resources Pty Ltd - formerly known as Pantana No. 68 Pty Ltd) and its subsidiaries being given preferential exploration rights over the remaining areas of North Solomons Province according to the five Prospecting Authority Applications prepared by it’.
‘This is the only way the aspirations of the people of North Solomons Province can be addressed’, Kabui contends.
‘For the future of North Solomons Province, exploration should commence because of the need to find more ore bodies to maintain continuity after the Panguna Mine is depleted. I believe many reputable mining houses are capable and anxious to assist in looking for future deposits’.
‘We can turn a negative situation into a positive situation’.
Kabui argues that the regulatory process for awarding prospecting licenses must be circumvented, in the interest of peace.
“It is a matter of urgent priority that the Prospecting Authorities sought by our company (Bougainville Resources Pty Ltd) be awarded immediately. Applications for Prospecting Authorities through the current regulatory framework would take time which in this instance is a luxury we cannot afford ourselves”.
The proposed beneficiary of this prospecting monopoly over Bougainville, Bougainville Resources Pty Ltd, was 50.1% owned by Bougainville Gold Enterprises Pty Ltd a private firm headed by Chinese Australian businessman, Benedict Chan. The minority shareholder (49.9%) was Pantana Company No. 89 Pty Limited. There are three equal shareholders in this firm. James Togel, the Bougainville Premier Joseph Kabui, and John Momis, who was at the time Papua New Guinea’s Minister for Provincial Affairs.
By early 1989, government mobile squad forces were terrorising communities on Bougainville using punitive paramilitary tactics.
Aware that the situation was spiralling out of control, the Justice and Peace Committee of Bougainville’s Catholic Diocese issues a statement in April 1989.
‘The present policy at various levels of government of terrorizing the population of the North Solomons through random acts of brutalizing innocent victims is not subduing persons, but only increasing hatred and acts of revenge’.
‘The riot squad [mobile squads] in particular have proven undisciplined through wanton malicious acts of violence’.
“Youths, judged by the Court magistrate to be innocent, were tortured while in custody at the Arawa jail; severely beaten with rifle butts, attempts were made to break limbs; sometimes deprived of food and water; and put in a cruxification stance by hanging detainees by one hand from a door with handcuffs, so that they could not recline or sit for 14 hours”.
The committee point to 14 confirmed deaths, and 100 people injured.
They warn Francis Ona cannot be defeated militarily.
‘[The] Justice and Peace Bougainville [committee] therefore sends this urgent plea to all concerned to end the bloodshed, the useless killing and torture’.
Government forces must be withdrawn they insist, and a plan created for meeting the ‘legitimate demands of the landowners and those suffering from the effects of environmental and socio-cultural pollution’.
I will only surrender in a coffin
As tensions mount in early 1989, Francis Ona senses that both the Papua New Guinea and Australian governments were mobilizing against the insurrection on Bougainville.
He anticipates the extreme military lengths they will go to.
Ona is also feeling politically isolated as he witnesses Joseph Kabui and John Momis leverage the popular protest to open up the entire province to mining, under the control of Kabui, Momis and their foreign business partners.
In a series of letters, he appeals to the women and the churches to champion the landowners’ cause publicly and stand up for the principles underpinning the nascent revolution.
Speaking to the Catholic Church, Ona writes:
“You have received numerous complaints about the inhuman treatment by Security forces towards our people. This, I have to say that, it is only a starting point of the inside rottenness of the whole colonially manipulated government system of Papua New Guinea”.
‘To us, the constitution of PNG is just a cover-up ... [our] leaders are corrupt and dictators. These same leaders ordered the security forces Shoot to kill when we are fighting for our true democratic rights in this country. This government is not for our people ... It is in fact a government for the economy of PNG and Australia’.
Ona predicts that the regional military power, Australia, will intervene on the side of Papua New Guinea.
‘The Australian government is taking a deep stand to assist PNG government and its Defence Force to fight us’.
In his letter to the women, Ona writes of betrayal by Bougainvillean leaders who were now looking to open up the entire island to mining.
‘Our members of [the] PNG government are blinded to our people and their livelihood. Mr Kabui has fallen into the same pit with Father Momis’.
‘This country is run and administered by BCL ... [The] Government of PNG ... safeguard the few rich leaders and white man’.
Ona concludes: ‘Our only option now is break-away from PNG. Only then we will be able to save the lives of our people on Bougainville’.
Aware of the push to open up the entire province to mining, Ona warns the stakes are high.
‘There are now 9 prospecting authorities ... This means that [the] whole of Bougainville Island is a great hole, [an] enlargement of Panguna. Life will not exist on our island. Our very government is hiding this fact’.
‘You mothers of this nation must talk-out now in order to save your childrens lives. We your Men Folk are doing our part in the Jungle. Please don't just sit and wait for us, do campaign and talk to authorities about the matter’.
‘The behaviour by security forces must be condemned. They have been shooting unarmed landowners’.
‘Please stay firm because I will only surrender in a coffin, this is because of my children and your children of generations to come’.
Former Papua New Guinea Defence Force Commander, Ted Diro, led the charge for an expansive counterinsurgency campaign on Bougainville during 1989, in his capacity as Minister for State.
Prime Minister Namaliu had attempted to secure a cessation of hostilities by offering mine impacted landowners a benefits package.
This echoed a wider belief that ‘grease’, as landowners called it, was what protesting communities were after.
The package was rejected.
Diro, and the military option, came to the fore.
On 8 June 1989, the Minister for State informs Bougainville Copper Limited’s (BCL) management an elaborate military campaign is about to begin.
The minutes note:
“Mr. Diro set the scene for the meeting by stating that after studying the impact of the closure of the mine, the Government has decided that no effort must be spared in trying to get the mine working as soon as possible, within one week if possible”.
Diro informs the company that his government is prepared to use ‘brutal firepower’.
BCL reminds the government they had ‘a lot of valuable equipment which we don't want to put at risk’.
No mention is made of the surrounding villagers.
‘There was general agreement that the Government will proceed with its plans [to use ‘brutal firepower’] and B.C.L. will meet again in one week's time to review the situation’.
Diro concludes the meeting, ‘it will take time … Democracy …’.
A month later BCL’s Managing Director, Bob Cornelius (RJC in the minutes), met with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister to review the situation.
Counterinsurgency operations had begun. Villages were being burned. Interment camps had been established. Civilian deaths were mounting.
BCL informs the Prime Minister.
“Security Forces Offensive activities ok and should continue”.
The company encourages the national government to target certain Bougainvilleans. Those who left the Papua New Guinea Defence Force to join the BRA are singled out, in addition to ‘Damien Damen, the charismatic Cult Leader’.
Damen was an activist who had protested the company’s presence on Bougainville since the 1960s.
BCL would also meet regularly with the counterinsurgency command to discuss priorities and tactics, in a similar vein.
Rio Tinto and the PNGDF
In 2001 a series of affidavits were collated by class action lawyers in the US, representing victims of the mine and war. They related to the events of 1989-1990.
One was produced by former Papua New Guinea Defence Force Commander, Jerry Singirok. Another by Yauka Liria an army intelligence officer. While the third is by former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare, who was Foreign Minister during this period.
Each affidavit maintains that the Rio Tinto subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), acted as a logistic arm of the government security forces.
An extensive list of support is documented in these affidavits.
BCL denied these allegations.
Subsequent interviews with senior BCL managers conducted by Professor Kristian Lasslett, confirmed that the company did provide logistic support to the security forces.
These officials also confirmed they were under no illusions over the human rights record of the government security forces.
The class action against Rio Tinto was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds by US Courts, before the facts could be tested.
Ironically, the only entity to receive substantial compensation for loss suffered during the crisis period is Rio Tinto.
BCL reached an out of court settlement with its insurer for A$102.5 million.
14. Liria, Y.A. (2001) ‘Declaration of Yauka Aluambo Liria’, Alexis Holyweek Sarei, et el.,v Rio Tinto, plc. et al., Case No. 00-11695 MMM AIJx, United States District Court – Central District of California, Western Division.
14. Singirok, J. (2001) ‘Declaration of General Singirok’, Alexis Holyweek Sarei, et el.,v Rio Tinto, plc. et al., Case No. 00-11695 MMM AIJx, United States District Court – Central District of California, Western Division.
14. Somare, M. (2001) ‘Draft Declaration of Michael Somare’ Alexis Holyweek Sarei, et el.,v Rio Tinto, plc. et al., Case No. 00-11695 MMM AIJx, United States District Court – Central District of California, Western Division.
Starve them out
During 1990, Australian and Papua New Guinean military planners devised a strategy for winning ground back from the BRA, after suffering major defeats.
The BRA had grown in number and capacity after a former Papua New Guinea Defence Force soldier, Sam Kauona, defected becoming the BRA’s Commander.
Under his leadership the PNGDF were forced into an embarrassing retreat.
Now a blockade would be placed around Bougainville. Nothing would be allowed in, not even medicines or surgical equipment.
Lissa Evans, who assessed the blockade’s impact in 1991 wrote: ‘After two years experience working for Community Aid Abroad’s Disaster Response Desk, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region, it is my firm opinion that the total lack of medical supplies to Bougainville between May 1990 and February 1991 has created an emergency situation. Bougainvillean doctors who have remained on Bougainville throughout the conflict estimate that over 3,000 people have died as a direct consequence of the blockade and that many thousands more are suffering unnecessarily because of a lack of medicines, soaps, detergents and dressings’.
This document, composed by the Defence Department’s Defence Intelligence Branch, sets out the logic underpinning the blockade.
“The people are facing hardships as a result of the absence of medical and basic goods and services … the government should continually push for peace talks outside of NSP [North Solomons Province], at the same time cut off further shipping, deliberately to worsen the hardships people are already facing. Simultaneously, a psychological warfare effort must go into action to exploit the situation”.
Australian and Papua New Guinean strategists anticipated that they could split the ‘moderate’ and ‘radical’ BRA. The blockade would ratchet up the pressure on the former to enter peace negotiations and iron out a solution that would end the secession struggle, returning the province to the political fold.
According to Papua New Guinea’s then Foreign Minister, Michael Somare, this strategy had the strong support of BCL’s Chairman, Don Carruthers.