Bougainville Special Correspondent
The whole Bougianville region is potentially staring down the barrel of another conflict if the unpopular Bel Kol initiative is to be implemented. And the warnings are very clear. Already many people are divided over the fact that Bel Kol will be between the company and the resource owners, not the whole of Bougainville. And this has agitated the many ex-combatants from the North and South against Central Bougainvilleans.
Concernedly, the arrogant few pushing for Bel Kol on Bougainville are putting the rest of Panguna and the other mine lease areas at risk. These are the so called landowner representatives in the respective landowner associations dealing with Bel Kol. Both North and South Bougainville suffered greatly in the crisis, for which they blame Central, particularly Panguna people for starting.
This is something outside observers have not picked up; the fact that the crisis was initiated by Central Bougainvilleans in Panguna, and this has caused many people from the North and South to blame the ten year siege of the island directly on Central people. Generally the sentiment is ‘what now will the people of Central Bougainville, particularly Panguna do to make our lives go back to normal since they have started the crisis that brought the entire island into a bloody conflict?’ This is a common sentiment shared by many from North and South.
And now that the Bel Kol compensation is basically focused on the epicenter of the crisis, particularly Panguna and the mine lease areas, this has caused outrage amongst inhabitants of the North and South who feel that Bel Kol is basically a slap on the face of those who joined the fight to rid the island of foreign intrusion. And if the initiative is to be implemented, the reopening of the mine is inevitable, hence throwing the whole island back to where most had lost their lives fighting against.
Basically, the perception on mining in Bougainville is of greater opposition than the ABG and the so called landowners in the associations claim otherwise to represent. The Momis/Nisira government have basically been lying to the international community that people want Panguna to be reopened. They claim the landowners in Panguna have been pushing the ABG to have the mine reopened; however this move is a scandal. The people of Panguna, and the surrounding lease areas claim otherwise. To date, there is no actual proof from these associations that they represent a people who support mining.
Most think that it will only be fair if the whole island is compensated accordingly from the Bel Kol initiative and not a few minorities whilst the rest miss out.
This is also something that the government of Bougainville (ABG) has desolately failed to monitor. Divisions amongst North, Central and South Bougainvilleans have been fueled greatly by the push for mining. Within the term of the Momis government, factions have become divided over the issue as there is a tug of war in gaining allies which further infuriates the population who are seeing their ‘paitman’ (fighting men) being used as mere leverage tools in gaining favour on the unpopular move for reopening.
Currently, Dr. John Momis has been seen in public with a big group of armed men. According to many ex-combatants, the men who are following the presidential candidate in two separate vehicles are convicted criminals from Buin. Hence if this is true, then it speaks volumes of the kind of flock in Dr. Momis’ keep.
All this is apart from the alleged fact that the landowner associations representatives have siphoned a large portion of Bel Kol money for its awareness initiatives. Reliable sources inside the landowner associations state the money which is now being used to promote Bel Kol is part of the Bel Kol compensation, hence if a considerable amount of money has already been used, then what will be given to the people will be much less than the initial amount agreed. This will be another matter of contention if this is true.
If any such Bel Kol initiatives are to be implemented there should be consideration as to how it will affect the population, and how the people will react to it should be scrutinized properly. Otherwise, implementing shallow and discriminative initiatives will only add more fuel to the fire that is threatening to be ignited, the only question now is ‘when’?
The region is already divided by a basically arrogant, deceptive and divisive ABG house.