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           Home >  Peace  > Conflict In Bougainville  :

Conflict in Bougainville - Part 2
Interview with Sam Kauona Sirivi

Dorothy - 23/6/00

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.

Landowners react
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.

Compensation sought
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 environment.

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 dissatisfaction.

Bougainvilleans mobilise
"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.

Sam Kauona Sirivi in Portsea, Australia, 1985
Sam Kauona Sirivi in Portsea, Australia, 1985
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.

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.

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