Lest we forget: 10th Anniversary of Bougainville revolutionary leader Francis Ona

It has been ten years since Francis Ona’s death, the great Bougainvillean leader who inspired the first successful revolution against a mining Multi-national Corporation (MNC). In memory of Francis Ona we post this piece from PNG Exposed that enquires into the circumstances of his suspicious death.

Was Bougainville leader Francis Ona assassinated by mercenaries?

Dansi Oearupeu | PNG Exposed

Francis Ona at the Panguna mine pit

Francis Ona at the Panguna mine pit

Francis Ona died in May 2005. He was an inspiration to many, Francis stood up against Rio Tinto, the Australian government and PNG in order to secure a way of life free from exploitation by foreigners. Only by securing the land and environment, could Bougainville regain the harmony and balance that has been its rudder throughout the ages.

One thing that really angered those who conspired against Francis was that he evaded the PNGDF bullets. And as a result, his towering figure remained a major barrier to the recolonisation of Bougainville by Rio Tinto and its collection of political clowns.

When he died, we were TOLD it was natural, we were TOLD that it was malaria. There was no autopsy, and no more questions were asked.

Interesting at the very same time Rio Tinto suddenly reversed its position on mining on Bougainville.

In 2004 its subsidiary BCL said ‘company policy is still to ultimate divest the Bougainville assets’. An explanation was given on its website:

‘There is no indication from landowners or Bougainville leaders that mining will be welcome. It must also be assumed that mine site assets continue to deteriorate with time and therefore the cost of a restart increases. Although some assets like the port, access road and pre-stripped ore are all positives, any potential developer seeking funding to restart the project is faced with the additional issues of PNG country risk and the long period of civil disturbance originating in the violent closure of the mine’.

Then in February 2005 several months before Ona’s death, BCL’s Chairman said in his annual statement:

‘I have spoken to a number of Bougainville landowners who have expressed an interest in allowing exploration on their land. Gold is continuing to be recovered from Bougainville. Based on exploration that took place prior to the moratorium and an airborne survey carried out by the German Government in 1985, there is good prospectivity in a number of areas of Bougainville.  Although the company has stated publicly it does not rate highly its prospects of mining at Panguna that is not to say it would not consider an exploration proposal for its licence areas’.

The door was suddenly opened – and its not hard to guess who these ‘landowners’ were, the very same ‘landowners’, who Francis Ona deposed in 1987 through an election, and the very same ones who now head the illegitimate umbrella landowners association.

Then in May 2005, Francis Ona suddenly died. At the time, two mysterious visitors arrived in the mine area, they were suspected of being South Africans. This put people on edge, after all the mercenary outfit, Sandline-Executive Outcomes, who had been contracted in 1997 to blast Bougainville into the stone-age included many ex South African special forces who had previously been used to enforce brutal apartheid policies.

Sandline-Executive Outcomes also have links with Rio Tinto (RTZ) according to one newspaper report published in 1997,

‘One of RTZ’s newest partners is the “ugly Canadian” Robert Friedland. Friedland is Rio Tinto’s junior partner in the Lihir gold mine in PNG. Executive Outcomes, the apartheid-linked mercenary force that was contracted by the PNG government to invade Bougainville and reopen the Panguna mine, is largely controlled by a Friedland company’, according to Roger Moody, writing in Multinational Monitor.

Was he executed by mercenary thugs? We dont know. People on the ground say yes.

So what happened after Ona’s death. Miraculously BCL went from dis-investing in Bougainville, to heralding the reopening of the mine AND its expansion. This is what the Chairman of BCL said in February 2006.

‘In anticipation of the exploration moratorium being lifted and encouragement from both the National and Autonomous Governments the company has commissioned a report on possible exploration targets within its licence areas’.

He goes on to claim:

‘PNG, Bougainville and the company are well placed to take advantage of this upturn in the resource sector. They need to work together now to develop a strategy that is mutually beneficial. BCL will be doing what it can to ensure the opportunities are not missed’.

Perhaps this is all just coincidence, a very lucrative and fortunate one for Rio Tinto. But many on the ground believe he was killed by assassins.

And the fear of violence continues as outspoken critics of the mining company, face a barrage of death threats.

Recolonisation is rarely a bloodless affair, the question is will Rio Tinto’s proposed return be bathed again in blood, and I include in that Francis Ona’s?



Filed under Human rights, Papua New Guinea

2 responses to “Lest we forget: 10th Anniversary of Bougainville revolutionary leader Francis Ona

  1. To: PNG Mine Watch

    Dear Dansi,
    Thank you for remembering the great man Francis Ona. A true hero and he will never be forgotten. It was extremely sad at the time of his death in May 2005, that an autosopy was not allowed. His fellow Bougainville supporters were also not allowed to attend his funeral. The Bougainville Freedom Movement were extremely suspicious about the sudden death of our friend Francis Ona. Trying to remember back ten years ago, I must admit, I did question why Chris Uma, General Chris Uma of the Me’ekamui (Bougainville) did not speak up or out about the death of Francis Ona.
    I think you should ask him Dansi.
    Secondly, the “white men” who saw Francis in 2004 were from Australia and Britian, not South Africa. I will send the article from The Age newspaper below dated 7 October 2004. Why were they invited to see him? Who invited them? Were they acting on behalf of the mining company? Again, please ask those who were surrounded by Francis at the time.
    The media were quick to say that Francis Ona died of “malaria”. Where did this information come from? The Bougainville Freedom Movement suspected he was poisoned.
    In solidarity, peace and freedom. Lest we forget Francis Ona x
    Bougainville Freedom Movement

    PNG concerned by visit to no-go zone
    By Mark Forbes
    Foreign Affairs Correspondent
    October 7, 2004

    A mystery Australian flight into a decommissioned airport and a journey inside Bougainville’s “no-go zone” has sparked concerns that a fragile peace in the troubled province could be shattered by conmen and carpetbaggers.

    Aboard the Cessna Citation were Australian pilots Peter McGee and Andrew Reid, Jeff Richards – who claims to represent a finance company in NSW – British financier James Nessbit and, allegedly, pyramid selling scheme kingpin Noah Musingku.

    The group arrived on Thursday and travelled to the disused Panguna mine, where they met the militant remnants of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, led by Francis Ona.

    Mr Reid and Mr McGee are being questioned by PNG authorities, but Mr Nessbit and Mr Richards have disappeared.

    PNG Police Commissioner Sam Inguba yesterday warned that the “disturbing” intrusion could undermine Bougainville’s fragile peace process.

    Under Australia’s new assistance plan for PNG, 18 Australian police are now patrolling Bougainville.

    Mr Inguba said authorities were told the men were invited by “the self-styled king of Papaala David Peei II” – believed to be a name used by Mr Musingku, who is wanted by authorities in PNG, the Solomon Islands and Australia for ripping off millions with spurious “fast-money” schemes.

    Bougainville Governor John Momis warned that the group’s motives could be “sinister”, aimed at the rich Panguna copper mine, disbelieving claims the men were looking to fund health clinics.

    From Port Moresby yester-day, Gold Coast-based pilot Mr Reid apologised for the unauthorised landing of his Cessna at the decommissioned Aropa airport.

    “Forgive my misunderstanding and my obvious ignorance towards correct procedure. I suppose I was a little misled,” he said.

    Witnesses said they saw three foreigners disembark from the aircraft on Thursday and head towards the rebel no-go zone around the Panguna mine, controlled by the BRA. The huge open-cut, Australian-operated Panguna mine was closed by a successionist guerilla campaign in the late 1980s.

    Mr Reid said he was working for a US-based company that was funding aid projects and providing money to hospitals in the area.

    PNG’s Minister for Inter-Government Relations, Sir Peter Barter, asked: “What is it that causes them to risk an illegal landing and then travel secretly into the no-go zone?”

  2. Pingback: More questions over the death of Francis Ona | Papua New Guinea Mine Watch

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