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BRA was the root of a bloody civil conflict

When the Bougainville Revolutionary Army succeeded in routing the PNG police and military from Bougainville in 1988, the BRA turned their violence upon Bougainvilleans they believed to be enemies or just ‘easy pickings’

Leonard Roka
The young Leonard Fong Roka and torture scar picked up in a refugee camp during the Bougainville civil war. When still a schoolboy, Leonard was deployed to serve in the bodyguard of Joseph Kabui, later president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government

| From Our Archive, 23 September 2012

MADANG – In October 1992 I was a kid roaming around parts of the Kieta and the Bana districts in South Bougainville with Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA).

I was a member of the ‘A’ Company bodyguard unit.

The unit was attached to my relative, the late Autonomous Bougainville Government president Joseph Kabui, who at the time was vice president of the Bougainville Interim Government.

I provided escort duties to Kabui and partook in only one armed operation - an assault on, as I know today, an innocent Bougainvillean in Bana.

Despite my father being killed by the BRA in 1993, I consider myself a Bougainvillean nationalist.

This is because I am aware of the ill treatment of my island of Bougainville by colonisation and later by Papua New Guinea, especially as a result of the copper mine on my land of Panguna.

As Panguna people, we sparked off a conflict that saved Bougainville from the brutality of Bougainville Copper Limited, Papua New Guineans and the squatter settlements that grew on our land.

(I carry a permanent scar on my face caused by kids at the Arawa ‘Morobe’ refugee camp in 1988.)

But it was not our fight alone. It was a struggle for self-determination that went back to the so-called cargo cult movements like the Hahalis Welfare Society and other groups that sprung up in Bougainville, especially after the onset of the work to construct the mine.

These groups were condemned publicly but silently assisted by Catholic missionaries and a few expatriate cocoa and coconut planters.

They demonstrated without violence against the ‘raskols’ on our island.

Engaging the barrel of the gun, we did the old timers proud in 1988 by sending the ‘raskols’ packing in fear and pain from our beloved island.

Thus did they realise that they were ‘raskols’ exploiting and suppressing a people they were not related to.

In that fight we created the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. I know this name shocked the Pacific and even our Papua New Guinean rulers, or Ivitu as we know them in Buin.

But the big question is why, after getting rid of the Ivitu, did we turn on each other?

This is the question that must be answered today so that we take Bougainville in the right direction.

In 1990, I was a Grade 4 student at Kaperia Community School in Arawa when the first ceasefire was signed between the BRA’s Sam Kauona and PNG’s Leo Nuia, known as the ‘Butcher of Bougainville’.

All the BRA men were stationed at Panguna. Law and order was observed for a month with the late Francis Ona as supreme head.

But, as the BRA men got out of this cage, they started calling themselves redeemers of Bougainville and began looting and otherwise harm businesses in Arawa.

Once after school, I encountered two BRA men wearing shoes they had not paid for, saying to the cashier in a store known then as the Haus Bilas: “We have suffered in the bush fighting for you”.

To the late Francis Ona and his followers, closing down the Panguna mine was the bliss that blinded them.

Keeping order and governing Bougainville was neglected. The BRA recklessness grew and spread.

The BRA men, most of them illiterate, went astray grabbing private and mining company property, looting shops and exploiting women often with the gun.

These unorganised BRA bands falsely accused innocent people of being PNG spies and tortured them. Others were accused of sorcery and killed.

The politically incompetent Francis Ona was nowhere to be seen or heard in this anarchy created under his name.

I was hearing that the BRA’s ill treatment of innocent Bougainvilleans was executed under the ‘standing orders’ of Ona.

But this was a lie as I heard later that Ona was not aware of any ‘standing orders’ and he was not responsible for the suffering endured by Bougainvilleans.

The BRA posed as a body with a central command fighting for Bougainville freedom when in fact it hosted dozens of independent individuals or bands operating at will across Bougainville.

To many of these BRA men, Buka was a strange place with beautiful women and unarmed men. So, with their new-found privileges, they invaded Buka in ex-BCL or robbed vehicles, exploiting women and terrorising the peace.

This led Buka leaders like Sam Tulo to invite the PNG government into Buka in 1990 and resulted in the creation of the Buka Liberation Force (BLF) that fought on behalf of the PNGDF after an agreement signed in New Ireland.

The BRA response was, ‘The Bukas have sold off our island to foreigners’ instead of admitting it was the BRA that was dividing the people of Bougainville with its irresponsibility and recklessness.

(Joseph Kabui was politically capable, but the ruler then was Francis Ona and the barrel of the gun.)

In South Bougainville’s Siwai district, responding to this BRA-BIG insanity through its creative leader the late Anthony Anugu and a few others, was established the South Bougainville Interim Authority (SBIA) to provide services to the people who now had no leader to guide them.

This initiative shocked the sick BRA and BIG.

In early 1992, Anugu and his kind and valuable leaders were betrayed by Siwai BRA lunatics and killed at Panguna.

Thus, today it is the BRA that ought to re-evaluate its irresponsibility in the past and lead Bougainville in the right direction instead of sitting down and waiting for miracles and creating fear in the hearts and minds of my people on Bougainville.


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Dr Momia Teariki-Tautea | Gold Coast

Thank you Leonard and Keith Jackson, it is important for outsiders to appreciate the various factions and dynamics that existed on the ground in Bougainville from someone who lived it.

It's also important to appreciate the role President Toroama plays and portrays as an original member of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.


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