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Wars of words over Panguna as Bougainville moves to new era


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.


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Lukis Romaso

The uncertainty of the re-opening of the Panguna Mine will take time given the current tug of war. The push to have RTG involved creates even more complication to the issue. In the meantime the ABG must invest time and financial support to develop agriculture by engaging the current best practicing farmers to increase production. DPI officers in the system cannot be resuscitated. Prior to the Bougainville crises the province and its people relied on cocoa, copra and marine products to send their kids to school, NOT the Panguna Mine. Coca export was more than 50% of PNG total cocoa export. I suggest we equally invest in getting agriculture back on its feet in the province.This is something people can control and take ownership of; not the future of Panguna Mine.

Michael Dom

We all too often have very little hope that good sense will prevail. But I sincerely hope your people work through this quagmire of politics and big business.

The welfare of the people should be at the centre of any decision ABG makes.

Perhaps no mine, as you suggest, is the best strategy.

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