The problems with the mining company discussed in
Part One continued.
New proposals for mining
In the late 1980s there was a German airborne survey to assess all minerals
on the island. They found that the island and its seabed were full of
minerals including gold, and an untapped source of oil. Five new projects
were proposed and applications lodged for licences to mine.
Francis Ona was the secretary of the Landowners Association formed by those
who owned land in the immediate vicinity of the mine. He also worked for
the mine as a surveyor, surveying the land with which the company claimed
an association. One of his projects as a surveyor was to survey a seven
kilometre tunnel that was built as a drainage system from the mine pit.
The people became suspicious of what was planned as the company was
working twenty four hours a day, digging up soil and using huge dump trucks
and being secretive about their plans. Francis Ona organised a core group
comprising concerned Bougainvilleans who were working in the mine with him.
Their aim was to find out more about the company's secrets and the deals
with which this gigantic corporation was involved. They were quite
successful in their assignments. Armed with the valuable information of
the company's secret plans Francis Ona and his team networked with people
all over Bougainville.
The people of Bougainville by now supported the land owners association and
complained to the company of damage to the environment and demanded
compensation for their land being destroyed. The company in response to
the pressure engaged an investigating company from New Zealand to test
whether the environment was being destroyed and whether it was good for
people to live in.
The investigation was carried out in 1988. Later in that year after the
investigations had been completed the presentation of their results was
made by the investigators in the presence of Bougainville Company Limited
(BCL) the mining company, PNG mining minister representing PNG Government,
the Bougainville Government representative and Panguna Land Owners
Association representatives including Francis Ona who attended along with
the leaders of Bougainville.
Report presented, then conclusions changed
On the first day in the preliminary presentation the conclusions stated
that there was environmental pollution occurring because of the mine. In
the second presentation on the final day the conclusions were completely
reversed and stated that the company had caused no pollution to the
Francis Ona protests
Sam describes what followed. "The final conclusion was a complete
contradiction of the preliminary conclusion and so these conflicting
reports made Francis furious. He banged the table with his fist, pointed
his finger at the big heavyweights from the company, the provincial
government, and the National Government of PNG and said, 'You are liars. I
am going to take this up personally and revolt against the company now.'
There was definitely a tense moment. They couldn't say anything. He
stormed out from the table and the meeting was concluded with
"The following day came to be known as the first day of recruiting in which
Francis and his team started mobilising together the young people of
Bougainville to fight against the company. After one week they stole all
the explosives belonging to the company and took them into the jungle.
"At that time I was in Australia and I only heard on the news that the
magazine where the company kept the explosives had been broken into and the
explosives had been stolen."
Attack on the power pylons
With those explosives Francis Ona's men began cutting down big power pylons
which carried electricity from the coast to the interior where the mine was
operating. The use of explosives to blow up and destroy these power pylons
became the means by which these young Bougainvilleans were able to bring
the mine effectively to a complete halt. The initiative by the company to
repair the power lines proved to be dangerous as the repairmen received
fatal shots from the now organised 'militant land owners' as they were
referred to in those days.
Early in 1989 the riot squad from PNG was sent to stop these activities.
From Day One they started burning down the villages and made the people
whose homes had been destroyed turn against the Government, the police and
the company. Sam became involved in March 1989.
Where had Sam Kauona been up until March 1989?
In 1984 Sam was at the University of Papua New Guinea and he decided to
join the defence force as a cadet so that he could serve the country that
way. Straight after that he was selected to go to the PNG Defence Academy
in the northern part of the New Guinea mainland. From there he was
selected to go to Officer Cadet training at Portsea near Melbourne in
Australia in 1985 and 1986.
Upon graduation as a second lieutenant he was posted to PNG as a platoon
commander and at the same time became a recruit training instructor. In
1988 he went to Australia again on a one year course to be trained as an
ordinance officer and explosives officer. He was there when the situation
in Bougainville started to deteriorate. In December 1988 he graduated from
the explosives Ordinance Course in Bandiana. By the time he came back the
fight between the riot squad and the people of Bougainville had already
started and the some of the power pylons had been knocked down.
Sam Kauona Sirivi in Portsea, Australia, 1985
Upon his graduation from the explosives course Sam became an ordinance
officer dealing with explosives in PNG, and in charge of the only
ammunition depot in the country. In January 1989, Sam received the order
from PNG Defence Force HQ to prepare a quantity of ammunitions and
explosives in anticipation of a call-out of the Defence Force to assist the
Police who were already at war with the Bougainville militant land owners.
The ammunitions and explosives were to be used on Bougainville.
Sam becomes involved in the struggle
Sam did not plan to go to Bougainville at this time, but his fiancee,
Josie, was on Bougainville and very unwell, so Sam went to see her in March
1989. Sam's job, his future career and his money were all in Port Moresby.
He had come only for the weekend. He saw his people being dragged along
the road till they died and the homes of the villagers burnt down. This to
him seemed like what happened in the tribal wars in the highlands of PNG
but not the way of the Bougainvilleans who lived a peaceful life. He
attended a meeting of the group opposing the PNG policies and when he rang
his commanding officer to report he was told that he would be court
martialled on his return because of his attendance at the meeting. On
hearing this Sam did not return to Port Moresby. He stayed and began
training the fighters of Bougainville.
Sam described what happened next. "Because there wasn't a name under which
Francis Ona and the group operated, the media and the PNG government
referred to this group as militant land owners, rascals, criminals, Rambos,
thugs, hooligans, trouble makers and rebels. To Bougainvilleans these
young men were brave heroes. Quite frankly they had no assault weapons and
were not prepared for any major offensive from the PNG military. However,
they all had determination and confidence in the cause they had undertaken.
They had their terrain and the environment to their advantage."
As a step to consolidating the Bougainville position Sam now became allied
with Francis Ona and organised a meeting in July 1989 in central
Bougainville, at the village of Orami. It was attended by all the members
of the freedom fighters with very strong representation from South and
Central Bougainville. It was during this meeting that the name
Bougainville Revolutionary Army was adopted by the revolutionary council.
Birth of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army
Thus the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) was born in July 1989.
Francis Ona became the leader and commander in chief of the Revolutionary
army. The whole island was organised and all able bodied men joined the
BRA. Only 1% of the people supported PNG - those who held positions in the
company or were benefiting directly from the company and a small number of
National Government officers.
Read Part Three in which Sam Kauona Sirivi talks about the next stages in
the fighting and negotiations.