Landowners are meeting on Papua New Guinea’s island of Bougainville to pave the way for the return of mining giant Rio-Tinto.
Rio’s Panguna copper mine was the spark that ignited a decade-long civil war which left thousands dead and the economy of the island on its knees.
Two decades on, there is a growing consensus among landowners about re-opening the mine.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speakers: John Momis, President of the Autonomous Government of Bougainville
Chris Damana, interim chairman of the Panguna Landowners Association
Bernadine Kiraa, Chairwoman of the Panguna Lower Tailings Landowers Association
GARRETT: Reconciliation is now the name of the game between landowners and Bougainville Copper – the Rio Tinto subsidiary that owns the Panguna copper mine.
It has been a long hard road.
Landowners have been holding talks among themselves and with the Autonmous Bougainville government for more than 2 years.
Earlier this month, there was something of a breakthrough – a three-way meeting between landowners, the Autonomous Bougainville government and Bougainville Copper.
Bernadine Kirra, is Chairwoman of the 3000 strong landowner group that suffered most during mining – the lower tailings landowners.
KIRAA: The meeting with BCL was a step forward. it was a very good meeting because we agreed at once some decisions that BCL has to meet before it decides to come to Bougainville.
GARRETT: And what is thew feeling amongst the women and the other landowners. do they want to see the mine re-opened, eventually?
KIRAA: Uh, yeah! Most people in mine-affected areas and all of Bougainville, we would very much want BCL to come back.
KIRAA: To help us with our economical recovery on Bougainville.
GARRETT: Bougainville’s President John Momis says the meeting with BCL was very significant.
MOMIS: It was the first time that all the landowners were represented in the group that talked with us. In the past we had other big meetings but not all landowner groups were represented. But this time it was good.
GARRETT: And did the landowner groups include mekamui and some of the landowner groups that have been hostile to Bougainville copper?
MOMIS: The landowner groups represented all the groups that have been listed as the legitimate landowners, which includes Mekamui, of course, yes.
GARRETT: Were you surprised at the broad representation of landowners that turned up for the meeting?
MOMIS: I was not completely surprised. I was very happy because we had been doing a lot of work, the administration has been doing a lot of work liaising and talking with the landower groups and insisting that landowners must come to an agreement to work together.
GARRETT: Bougainville President John Momis.
Landowners took charge of the agenda at the meeting with Bougainville copper.
Chris Damana, Interim Chairman of the key umbrella group, the Panguna Landowners Association, says the BCL representative aquitted himself well.
DAMANA: Mr Paul Coleman, during our 13 agendas that we presented, gave us a positive ..all of them positively answered us. BCL will come and re-open the mine but need to tidy up a lot of things before they come and re-open the mine. We all agree that BCL will come back because they have learned their mistake. We have learned our mistake and, maybe, we can start on a new slate.
GARRETT: So the landowners want to see the mine re-opened?
DAMANA: Of course we need Panguna mine to re-open, definitely!
GARRETT: Landowners told Bougainville copper that before any more moves could be made towards formal negotiations for the re-opening of the mine the company must take part in a reconciliation ceremony and pay what is known as belcol money.
Respecting tradition is crucial to the success of future talks.
This week, landowners have been holding a series of meetings to draw up some instructions so that BCL gets it right.
DAMANA: We are discussing it now, this morning, in a meeting. we want to put it in black and white to BCL because as you know BCL will see it from the Western cultural perspective. we see it from the Melanesian cultural perspective so we need to explain properly to BCL what this belcol money is and what will meet our purpose, that BCL will do before we go into serious talkings with BCL.
GARRETT: Chris Damana, interim Chairman of the umbrella organisation, the Panguna landowners Association.
Landowners are still discussing exactly what the belcol should entail.
Bernadine Kiraa, from the lower tailings landowners association does not want to pre-empt the outcome, but she is clear on what her people want.
KIRAA: We really want something that will benefit the whole of Bougainville but, especially myself, I am really looking for BCL to build maybe some good schools for a better standard and maybe better hospitals for Bougainville for a start because we really have a problem with good standard of education and the health facilities here on Bougainville at the moment is very low.
GARRETT: If the mining does go ahead, would all of Bougainville benefit or would it only be the landowners from around the mine?
KIRAA: No, No, this time we are looking from a different perspective. All people of Bougainville should benefit because they have all suffered due to the landowners conflict so we are looking forward to a new complete agreement that will benefit all of Bougainville.