PANGUNA - With Bougainville less than a year away from a referendum on its political future, the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and a local Panguna group known as the Meekamui Government of Unity are in a war of words over the re-opening of the Panguna copper and gold mine.
The ABG wants the now reformed Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) to operate the mine which it believes will finance the redevelopment of Bougainville.
But the Meekamui and the Osikaiyang Landowners Association are keen to see the mine opened by an Australian company they have aligned with called RTG.
Bougainville’s president John Momis has said the ABG will not allow a company with no track record to mine at Panguna.
The quarrel between the ABG and the Meekamui is potentially divisive and may affect peace-building efforts in the autonomous province.
BCL, through the Panguna Negotiation Office, is said to be funding a group calling itself Panguna New Generation Leaders which is aggressively pushing for the re-opening of the mine.
The Meekamui and its overseas backers are taking a more moderate stance but are determined to get RTG to develop the mine.
After a 10-year civil war, the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001 addressed the political problem but did not provide a settlement to cater for the Panguna problem which is still shimmering around us.
Meanwhile the 1980s vintage old landowners associations and the new landowners association are also still verbally brawling and attacking each other.
As this struggle goes on, we, the innocent people of Panguna, are being blamed by other Bougainvilleans of working to re-open Panguna.
On the BCL side we see no change of heart for the interests of the people of Bougainville who have suffered because of them and the PNG state.
Rio Tinto offloaded its shares to PNG and Bougainville so that we could see that it was changing its mind on the future of Panguna. But can we be sure? We need to watch to see if various personalities move to and fro between positions in BCL and Rio Tinto.
Let us hope we are not submerging into the violence of the 1990s even as we try to work through the peace agreement and move to the new dawn that next year’s referendum should represent.