MAC: Mines and Communities

Kabui Urges Ona To Share Gold Wealth

Published by MAC on 2005-07-11
Source: The National ()

Kabui urges Ona to share gold wealth

By Lloyd Jones, Papua New Guinea Correspondent, The National

11 July 2005

Port Moresby: Secessionist leader Francis Ona should use the gold wealth he claims to have to compensate Bougainvilleans for years of suffering during the island’s conflict, Bougainville President Joseph Kabui says.

The reclusive Ona recently said gold panned by villagers in mountain rivers and sold overseas had funded his secessionist Meekamui Movement.

It was also helping fund the alternative Meekamui administration being built for Bougainvilleans, he said.

Ona refuses to recognise the island’s newly-elected autonomous government.

Moreover, he has declared himself king and proclaimed Bougainville a sovereign and independent nation separate from Papua New Guinea.

He and his followers continue to live near the giant Panguna copper and gold mine that was at the centre of a decade of bloody conflict.

More than 10,000 people were killed, with some estimates putting the toll closer to 20,000.

In 1989, landowner discontent over environmental damage and benefits from the giant Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL) mine sparked the secessionist conflict which dragged on through the 1990s.

Ona recently said he would support Kabui and his autonomous government only if they recognise Bougainville as a sovereign nation already independent from PNG.

If the autonomous government did not have the finances to run the island, it should step down and let him take over, Ona said.

In response to Ona, Kabui told reporters this week the island was not for sale.

He urged Ona to join other Bougainvilleans in developing a free democratic society that did not require the barrel of a gun or fear to rule.

Finding funds to develop Bougainville was a major priority and challenge, Kabui said. “It would be appropriate for Mr Ona to consider using his vast wealth to

compensate the people for the years of suffering we have endured in his name. “The vast wealth he claims to have is needed by his people,” Kabui said.

“The money does not belong to him and just because he has amassed a fortune at the expense of 20,000 lives does not give him the right to undermine internationally-accepted democratic principles and impose his own dictatorial regime.”

Kabui said Ona should realise the democratic path followed by the new autonomous government could lead to internationally-recognised independence.

Under the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement, the islanders have been promised a referendum in 10 to 15 years time on independence from PNG.

Meanwhile, Kabui has backed taking a class action in the United States against BCL and its major shareholder Rio Tinto, saying BCL’s operations caused permanent environmental, cultural and social damage to Bougainville and compensation was due.

To regain the credibility of BCL, all assets associated with the Bougainville operation should be handed over to Bougainvilleans, he said.

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