An Interview with Sam Kauona Sirivi
If you have not already read Parts One and
Two of this series we suggest you read them before reading Part Three.
Sam appointed commander of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army
The fighting methods of the BRA changed when Sam became the commander of
the BRA. There had been no one with a military background to lead the
people of the island and they had no equipment. They had fought only by
throwing down rocks against their enemies. Now Sam trained them to use
explosives, to lay charges of dynamite and use rifles. A few people had
shotguns or 22s. People made use of the rubber bands that the company used
in the conveyor belts and made a type of bow called a fogat and arrows.
These were easy to carry in the jungles and proved to be effective weapons
just like fishing guns. "Using these weapons and a couple of 22s is very
effective in an ambush," Sam said.
"In the first stage of the fighting patrols from the PNG forces were
ambushed and the Bougainvilleans captured weapons of a high standard -
M16s, SLRs, M79 Grenade Launcher, and ammunition. This became the means of
the BRA acquiring arms and re-supplying its men. The BRA never imported or
bought any arms from abroad.
"Wherever the BRA was operating the local villagers accommodated and fed
the men. The fighting during this phase was concentrated mainly in central
Bougainville. This is where the problem started and later it spread out to
the entire province. The PNG Defence Force occupied and operated from the
main towns like Arawa, Kieta, Toniva and Panguna, while the BRA occupied
and controlled all the jungle and the villages. Very intense and fierce
encounters between the forces took place in and around the site of the
Panguna copper mine which by then was completely shut down because of the
First cease-fire 1990
The war was fought with increasing success by the BRA until March 1990 when
the first cease-fire was signed by Sam Kauona on behalf of the BRA and the
commander of the PNG forces in Bougainville, Colonel Leo Nuia,
representing the PNG Defence Force.
"The reason for signing the cease-fire was for the leaders of PNG and
Bougainville to come together and address the issues that affected
Bougainville and resulted in this civil war. It was agreed in the terms of
the cease-fire that the PNG security force was to withdraw completely from
Bougainville and the forces of the BRA were to lay down and hand in their
arms to the BRA headquarters. Both forces did honour the agreement which
resulted in the PNG Government withdrawing its forces, including the
police, the army and the civilian public servants back to PNG," Sam
The planned negotiations did take place on board a New Zealand warship,
H.M.S. Endeavour. The result was the signing of the Endeavour
Accord. The accord proved to be a failure as PNG now took the initiative
in a new phase embarking on a "divide and rule" tactic. The result was a
gloomy journey in Bougainville's history in which Bougainvilleans fought
against each other.
A complete blockade was put into effect by the PNG Government, assisted by
Australian-supplied patrol boats and Iroquois helicopters.
Another problem arose from Bougainvilleans making claims to a lot of
materials, including hundreds of vehicles abandoned by the mining
A gloomy phase - disaffection in the BRA
The second phase was a gloomy phase. The soldiers in the BRA refused to
listen to Sam.
"It was madness," said Sam. "They didn't know how to drive the vehicles
but they went from one to another - there were so many. There was
virtually no control. They took all the money that was left in the
drawers. Because of all the material goods Bougainvilleans started
fighting against each other. Perhaps leaving the goods was a tactic of the
PNG Government so that the people would fight for the claims and be
"The problem became so complicated that it became impossible to address
this internal instability. In one of the regrettable incidents young
Bougainvilleans from the northern part of Bougainville fought with the
people of Buka Island. BRA as a force was ineffective to address this
particular incident. Chiefs from central Bougainville also tried to
address the issue with no positive result.
"Because of the above issue the chiefs of Buka Island invited back PNG
security forces. The resistance to the PNG invasion of Buka Island led to
hundreds of Buka people, mainly young boys, being killed by the enemy.
After setting up a permanent strong forward base in Buka PNG then used this
fragile situation to exert its influence on the island of Buka and also
"The areas most disaffected were the northern and southern areas and Buka
Island where a lot of young men lost their lives, being killed by their own
people who had been armed by the PNG forces. Central Bougainville
remained intact in opposition to PNG despite the fact that the PNG Defence
Force returned and made their main base camp right in the heart of central
Bougainville. They were never able to convince the majority of the central
people to support them. Only two villages were won over to PNG, but even
they never became involved in fighting against the BRA," Sam recalled.
A price on the heads of Sam and other BRA leaders
The PNG Defence Force wanted to get rid of the leaders of the BRA. They
put a price on Sam's head. They tried to capture Josie, thinking that this
would help them to find Sam. This meant that the family, along with other
refugees, had to live in the jungle and keep moving by night to avoid
BRA representation outside Bougainville
The BRA needed representation outside Bougainville. Moses Havini, a
Bougainvillean married to an Australian and living in Australia, had been a
leader in Bougainville's struggle for independence in 1975. He became the
BRA's representative in Australia.
Michael Forster, an Australian who was born on the island, is a naturalised
citizen of Bougainville and had a large plantation on the island, became
their representative at the United Nations.
In 1990 Martin Miriori, a Bougainvillean, went to his family to the Solomon
Islands and established an office there, mainly to facilitate for
humanitarian assistance, as Bougainville was completely blockaded. Nothing
was being taken in - no service, no medicines. Martin organised much
needed medical supplies and clothing donated by NGOs.
Sympathy for the Bougainvilleans was growing. A lot of expatriates became
involved. Unions in Australia protested against the ships that were
heading for Port Moresby with supplies.
Delegation to the United Nations
In 1992 Joseph Kabui headed the first delegation to the United Nations and
talked about the situation on Bougainville. After that each year a
representative was sent to give a briefing at the United Nations. Mike
Forster in Australia was responsible for organising any reports that went
to the United Nations.
Second cease-fire 1994 but negotiations unsuccessful
"The second phase ended in October 1994 when I signed the second cease-fire
in Honiara. Things began to calm down from this point. However, PNG
wanted to use the peace period to infiltrate and were wanting to knock off
the leaders of the revolutionary side," said Sam.
The second cease-fire did not last long. It was observed for about a
month. Again the main idea for the cease-fire was to create a conducive
environment for the leaders from both parties to meet and address the issue
of Self Determination for the people of Bougainville. The 1994
negotiations became a failure.
By this time the Bougainvilleans were a divided people. Some supported the
PNG Defence Force and others supported the BRA. Those who supported the
PNG Defence Force were constantly armed and re-supplied by them.
The PNG forces brought the supportive Bougainvilleans into camps known as
"care centres" and here they were womanising with the wives, girl friends
and sisters of members of the Resistance Force. This was a major reason
why the two opposing Bougainvillean forces came together to get rid of the
PNG Defence Force. One camp was completely wiped out by their united
forces after they had made the Defence Force drunk with home brew. They
captured all the equipment.
Events outside Bougainville
In 1995 Martin Miriori's house on the Solomon Islands was surrounded, in
the night by the PNG Defence Force. They put petrol into it and it was
completely burnt out. The family who had been asleep narrowly escaped
being burnt alive.
The PNG Defence Force crossed some twenty times to the Solomon Islands, and
exchanged fire and killed some of the Solomon Island Field Force - a
serious but silent war. The PNG government resented the fact that wounded
Bougainvilleans who had no medical supplies had been taken to the Solomon
Islands to be cared for. A diplomatic team from the Solomon Island
Government went to the western side of the Solomon Islands, adjacent to
Bougainville, to talk about the issue. The PNG Defence Force crossed to
the Solomon Islands and took from the diplomatic team all their radios,
recordings and papers.
This resulted in the Solomon Islands having to become a truly neutral
country not able to facilitate on behalf of Bougainville.
After the burning of his house Martin Miriori and his family were taken
from Honiara to the Netherlands by an Australian plane under UN Orders. He
established an office there representing Bougainville.
Moves towards unity
By 1996 the BRA succeeded in capturing the camps of the PNG forces and the
islanders were becoming more united. People had grown weary of the
fighting and saw the futility of fighting against each other. The BRA
organised a task force led by Steven Topesi. He was to get in touch with
the hard core in the Resistance force and communicate with them. This was
how the peace started. By 1997 the establishment of reconciliation on
Bougainville initiated by the BRA was on its way.
Contact with New Zealand
"That was how the BRA and the Resistance were able to convince our
political leaders and our people of the need for reconciliation," said Sam.
"By 1997 the reconciliation had started in central Bougainville and spread
out to the south and the north. Buka Island was completely controlled by
PNG. We were looking out for any country which would make it easy for us
to come together politically and address the issues. This is when New
Zealand came in. Don McKinnon invited the Bougainvillean representative in
Europe, Martin Miriori, to Wellington for a private briefing. This meeting
became a foundation for the New Zealand Government to find ways to
facilitate a peace process in Bougainville.
Bougainvillean leaders to meet in New Zealand
"We needed a country to help us sort out an agreement with the PNG
government,"said Sam. "Mr McKinnon had met Martin Miriori in New Zealand
in June 1997. In July Joseph Kabui and I led a party to Honiara and from
there came to New Zealand to a leaders' meeting of the two groups from
Australian Government briefed on plans for reconciliation
"Before leaving Honiara we had a visitor from Australia, Senator David
McEvans. He had heard how Australia had been supporting PNG. Mike Forster
in Australia had told him that the leaders of Bougainville were in Honiara
and he came to hear our story. When he went back to Australia he briefed
the Government on the proposal so the Australian Government knew what was
"In July 1997 we had the first meeting in New Zealand which we call Burnham
I, and from that time on New Zealand was with us. Don McKinnon came to the
island and visited one of the main villages in central Bougainville. He
talked with the chiefs, who were able to face him and share with him, and
he promised that the New Zealand government would work with us until we
solved our issues with PNG.
"Burnham 1 was for all the Bougainvillean leaders to meet without
representatives from PNG and to establish the principles of the peace
process that would be followed.
"Burnham 2 was in October 1997 and that was the first time that the
officials had talked to us. This meeting was held to facilitate a further
political meeting between the parties. The achievement of the meeting was
signing a truce and the principles of a cease-fire which was still to be
The Lincoln Agreement
"Then in January 1998 when the truce was in
effect we came to Lincoln for a meeting of leaders with PNG. There we
talked about the principles of going through the peace process and signed
the Lincoln Agreement.
Australia resumes power.
"Now the leadership has been handed over to Australia and the people are
unhappy because they say, 'Australia is not neutral. They supported PNG.'
"After that meeting in Lincoln came the fourth important meeting held in
April on board the Australian warship H.M.S. Tobruk which was
alongside Loloho wharf in Bougainville. All the leaders from Bougainville
and PNG signed Cease-fire 3. Two had failed, but the third one sponsored
by New Zealand is surviving."
"This is the peace that the BRA on behalf of the Bougainvillean people
wanted to secure so that the people of the island could vote in a true
referendum to decide their future.
"The PNG government has not addressed the issue of the referendum so the
BRA is watching carefully to see what will happen. Peace initiatives
attempted on Bougainville without the BRA did not succeed. We hope that
this peace will last."
Power vested in the local people's Congress
After the military cease-fire was signed the power of government was vested
in the local people's Congress led by Joseph Kabui. Dialogue has replaced
fighting. The weapons are under good control. This has set Sam free to
undertake his present training.
Watch for Josie's story, the next article in the Bougainville series,
describing the suffering of the Bougainvillean women during the war.
Read about Don McKinnon - Next Commonwealth Secretary General and his Twenty One Years In Parliament.