LEONARD FONG ROKA
ARAWA – “In Nagovis we were the first people to uphold the Bougainville Revolutionary Army’s fight in 1990,” recalled Thomas Kolouko of Biroi village in the Bana District.
“But when the [PNG] army came to Sovele in late 1992,” Thomas continued, “we decided not to flee but remain in our villages with hope for better change for Bougainville.
“[But] under Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) control we suffered the most.”
He directed my eyes to a concrete cell behind the padre’s house.
“This was our death bunker whenever we did wrong - like drinking - or whenever we were suspected of dealing with the BRA. We were urinated at and defecated over and we died in here.”
My visit to Sovele Catholic Mission in south Bougainville’s Bana District had led me to this house, behind which, half-buried in the soil, was the concrete cell measuring about five metres by five metres and four metres in height.
The German priest who constructed it in 1990 used it to store mission records.
“Before the PNGDF came,” Thomas said in the cell’s semi-darkness, “there were shelves all over this wall. Mission records and so on were stored in here.
“But when the army came from Boku, they destroyed all mission records and converted this cell into their sewage tank.
“So as time went by and many of our men got into trouble, especially us Biroi and Bakoram villagers, or if we were suspected of having connections with the BRA, we were thrown here.
“Some of us were executed around this building while we inside listened to the gunshots and their last cries or the thud of their bodies landing on the ground.”
According to Thomas Kolouko, during the PNGDF occupation of Sovele, the mission was the killing yard of Bougainvillean men suspected of interacting with the BRA.
Suspects from all over Bana District were tortured in and around the church. Some were left to bleed their lives away there.
Just a few metres away from the church there are 8 graves from which remains were recently removed for proper burial by relatives.
“My brother alongside another local man went through days of torture in the church and this bunker,” Thomas said uneasily. “Then they were ordered on to the lawn and told to run.
“As they ran they were both gunned down. They were dead.”
This event was witnessed by Sovele Primary School students during their work parade afternoon.
“I was picking up rubbish and watched the men marched here,” said Justin Teneke, from Biroi, now a public servant with the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
“Armed men were all around here and guns were fired. Later in the night words spread that Mr Kolouko’s brother was killed.”
The two men also revealed that of the many victims killed at Sovele Catholic Mission, one was airlifted in a helicopter and flown towards the coast by the PNGDF. Many people think the victim was dropped into swamplands around the Jaba River estuary.
The PNGDF still have not told relatives where they dumped the body.
“We suffered enough under PNG,” Thomas said. “Before the 1988 armed uprising we suffered under the Panguna mine that developed PNG and not Bougainville. What do we need to say in the referendum vote? Independence is all we need to put in the referendum ballot.
“Men, women and children have washed us with their innocent blood; and that blood must be paid for with independence and nothing else.”