MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Arms disposal by December

Published by MAC on 2002-09-19

Arms disposal by December

By Brian Gomez

The once feared "A" company of Panguna from the "No Go Zone" near Arawa has joined the peace process amidst rising confidence that the second stage of the weapons disposal program should be completed by the end of this year.

All Bougainvillean parties to the 10-year-long conflict briefed the madia last week on the weapons disposal program, disclosing that weapons in the Siwai district in South West Bougainville had been collected and destroyed in a ceremony on December 14 last year. "Peace has certainly arrived and the violence is behind us. There has been on politically motivated violence but recently law and order issues are increasing," said Commander Wayne Jackson, who heads up the peace monitoring group.

Mr Jackson said that the conclusion of stage 2 of the weapons disposal program, when all weapons will be locked in metal containers, a decision would be made on the final fate of these weapons.

"Weapons disposal is not about collecting weapons but about trust that the peace process is here," he said.

Questioned on the decision of the "A" company to joint the peace process, the vice president of the Bougaiville People's Congress, James Tanis, speaking as the group's leader, said the group had been "left out" of the peace process because of two big issues. These were the claim for K10 billion in compensation from CRA Ltd, the owner and operator of the Bougainville copper mine and the issue of independence for Bougainville. The compensation claim was now being addressed in a US court, he said, adding "Francis Ona is taking CRA to court in the US. So why hide in the jungle when we have a court case?"

The peace process has also provided an opportunity to talk about independence, enabling "A" company to accept all obligations under the peace process, he said.

Asked about groups that remained outside the peace process, he said this was a reference to Mr Ona and the Meekamui defence force. They had not done anything to deliberately affect the peace process, he said.

"He has been silent. He may not agree with everything in the process. We leave it up to Francis Ona and Meekamui to choose the best time to join the peace process."

Meanwhile, it was disclosed that people in Siwai were already enjoying the dividends of peace, having decides in December to destroy resistance force weapons. People in Siwai have been able to move around freely without feeling threatened by the sight of weapons. The weapons were destroyed, explained Ambassador Noel Sinclair, head of the United Nations Observer Mission in Bougainville. It was a very emotional ceremony and I still have the smell of metal being cut in my nose."

Siwai is the most advanced area in terms of attracting investments and facing the real issue of getting on with out lives", said Fred Terry, project manager for restoration and development activities coordinated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

Work had begun in Sivai on town planning, he said. "There is a sense of euphoria as they go bout their daily business without fear," he said. Mr Terry also said the invisible fence blocking off the No Go Zone near Arawa was also breaking down.

"People are looking over and seeing the benefits of peace and development - cocoa projects, ex-combatant training programs and women's development.

"Development is significant in the longer term and will manifest itself in maximum autonomy, " he said.

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