The late Mathew Kove, a paramount Chief of Guava was a major beneficiary of royalty payments made by Bougainville Copper Limited during the time of the Panguna mine operations. In 1988, he was murdered, allegedly by his nephews over a royalty payment dispute, and his body was hidden in the mountains of Panguna.
In a surprising and sudden turn of events, Mathew Kove’s remains were recently exhumed and given a proper burial by his relatives through the intervention of a Catholic Renewal Ministry in Arawa. From the time he was killed until the time his remains were exhumed, no one had any clue as to where his body was hidden.
The Mathew Kove case is significant in that he had a major part to play in the eruption of the crisis. And the reason for the retrieval of his remains relates to a payment to be made by the mining company Rio Tinto. To cut the chase, there is K40 million waiting to be paid by Rio Tinto which it has been holding on trust for the landowners and one of the conditions for that payment was the retrieval of Koves’ remains; and now that retrieval has happened.
To the people of Guava, Koves’ retrieval is one of the main conditions for reconciliation to wrap up unification for the reopening of the Panguna mine. Many attempts were made prior to the recent event, and the thing that always stood in the way of retrieval were the ramifications (both physical and spiritual) upon the people of Guava if the deceased remains were retrieved. One of those ramifications is the reopening of the mine, which the community stands firm in opposing. They want to keep the mine closed for good. The son of Mathew Kove, Junior Kove is keeping a tight lip on the reason for the retrieval. But the retrieval team, with the support of the ABG, were adamant to get the process completed so the settlement of the K40 million can be reached.
However, the issue of reconciliation between the family of Mathew Kove and the alleged perpetrators is an issue which will not take a one off reconciliation process to complete. Hence the community of Guava are not happy with the way in the reconciliation process was handled; very important issues were overlooked and ignored as there are many other matters tied to the death of Mathew Kove.
According to Joan Daterasi of Guava,
“My Guava family must not be forced by the government to reconcile the issue the way it (the government) wants. We have to take a pace or process to reconcile as these issues are so much rooted in our history.”
The people now feel threatened by this move, because the retrieval was initiated without addressing eminent concerns that are attached to the issue. Furthermore, the worst fear is that the ABG and BCL might capitalise on this move as a big step towards the reopening of the mine. Something the people of Guava, Panguna and Bougainville do not want, let alone need on their island.