MAC: Mines and Communities

New mining conflict erupts on Bougainville

Published by MAC on 2017-08-21
Source: MILDA, Leonard Fong Roka

A recent meeting, called by the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance (MILDA) in Bougainville, was disrupted by former members of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) who had fought in a protracted and bloody war for independence from Papua New Guinea - and to expel Rio Tinto (owner of the notorious Panguna mine) from the country.

These "New Generation" warriors are now supporting the re-opening of the mine and have targeted one particular family - the Rokas - for opposing them.

In this post, we publish both the MILDA announcement of the meeting, and a comment by Lenoard Fong Roka on what he saw happen there.

Vanuatu delegates attend Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance Conference

By Fern Napwatt (MILDA)

5 August 2017

The Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance (MILDA) will be holding its meeting for 2017 on August 14 to 18 in Bouganville, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Land Desk Coordinator at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Mr Joel Simo, said that since the MILDA was established in 2009, there were meetings taking
place every year and in 2013 they did not hold a meeting but recommenced
in 2014 to present.

This year like in past conferences, we bring together youth who are strong advocates and active members of the society who fight for land issues and other issues in the Melanesian countries around the region, he said.

The main agendas that will be discussed in the conference are land issues and deep sea mining that is currently taking place and the effects of these actions in the future.

Mr Joel said that factors such as large scale of land sale that is happening in Melanesian countries like Vanuatu and laws that are made that takes away land from the natives of the land like in Papua New Guinea will be discussed in the meeting.

"We will also look at ways where we can curb these practices through MILDA and implement ideas that portrays our way of life, for instance, in a MILDA conference held in Port Vila we (with the current Minister of Lands, Mr Ralph Regenvanu) initiated the ˜alternative indicators" that the Vanuatu government is implementing through the Statistics Office", he said.

These representatives will share land issues from their countries, its a kind of training and then find common roads to tackle these issues- Deep sea mining will also be discussed, though its in a ˜trial state", it will surely have impact on our lives.

Mr Joel reiterated that in Melanesia, land is everything and once this is alienated then the people will no longer exist and ocean also plays the same role as land where people access food and recreation activities.

"Our Independence of Melanesi is founded on our land, once it is taken from us we are slaves in our own land so Bouganville (PNG) as the host country, will be starting off the training with exposure issues faced in their country and then later in the period we will have a slow food festival where women from Bouganville will showcase their diverse slow food preservation and preparation," he said.

The young participants are from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia (Kanaky), Vanuatu and Bouganville, the meeting will be held in Panguna, Bouganville and the panel is mostly made up of academics who are lecturers, university students, church reps and like-minded believers that land is our life.

Mr Simo and four participants from Vanuatu have left yesterday (Friday) to attend the meeting.

B'ville ex-combatants threaten violence against Panguna family

Unhappiness at Panguna


17 August 2017

IT was reminiscent of the event in which our father was killed by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army on 18 March 1993 during the peak of the Bougainville conflict.

On that day, armed men located themselves at the assassination scene and lied to someone they met and told him to call our father to the scene of his death.

On this occasion, Panguna New Generation Leaders tricked someone to call us to a place for something good but when we reached it, dozens of men appeared and began intimidating us. A number were under the influence of liquor.

Panguna New Generation Leaders consists of former BRA men who are aggressively campaigning for the re-opening of the Panguna mine with funding from the Panguna Negotiations Office of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG).

The threats have been continuing for almost three weeks.

The crisis sprouted from a belief that “where the population is illiterate, the literate cannot move an inch”. The Roka family was acting in a capacity that we should do something for the government instead of waiting for the government to do something for us.

One of my sisters is a member of Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance (MILDA), formed in 1997 at Madang to advocate for the freedom of the West Papuans and on other critical issues affecting Melanesia.

MILDA had its last conference in Solomon Islands. My sister attended and saw the need for MILDA input to the Bougainville referendum.

MILDA saw that the PNG government had great influence on the Bougainville Peace Agreement, which is still a problem the ABG is dealing with. The PNG government does not respect the peace agreement by complying with its commitments.

The MILDA conference for Bougainville was to be held in the Panguna District from 14-18 August. The aim was for MILDA to listen to the locals express their needs for the coming referendum and to start supporting Bougainville in lobbying for support within the Melanesian states.

MILDA also sees that Bougainville should have a seat in the Melanesian Spearhead Group and alongside other Pacific organisations but has not reached this point yet.

But, according to Panguna New Generation Leaders, the Roka family with MILDA was interfering with the ongoing re-opening of Panguna mine.

Its leaders Henry Pipino, Junior Itamari and community government officer Francis Nasinui said at their first meeting with us that they had won the hearts of all ex-combatants in Bougainville and the Rokas were here to destroy that effort and the future of Bougainville.

They claimed the Rokas do not have respect for their authority despite us showing them the documents of approval from the ABG and other authorities. They said we are showing off with our university degrees and destroying the Panguna people.

Then they ordered the MILDA officials who were here from New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and PNG to depart Panguna.

They said they had prepared excavators to block MILDA and Roka family access to Arawa if they continued their conference in Panguna.

They also said they would smash the Rokas and any local community members and women’s groups supporting us.

They said former Panguna combatants are fighters and do not fear and will not hesitate to destroy anybody that sabotages the Panguna re-opening.

The MILDA conference for Bougainville was not terminated, however, people who wanted to listen to what our fellow islanders had to say about the Bougainville referendum moved it to Arawa where it progressed away from some of the most politically confused people of Bougainville.




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