Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand | 26 August 2016
The leader of Bougainville’s Me’ekamui rebel group, Chris Uma, says the spat over shares in Bougainville Copper Ltd, BCL, is of no consequence.
There has been a war of words between the governments of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville after multi national miner, Rio Tinto, gave its shares in BCL to them.
PNG later gave its shares to Panguna landowners, a move that infuriated Bougainville President John Momis, who says the shares should all go to his Autonomous Government.
But the special envoy for Mr Uma, John Jaintong, told Don Wiseman says it is irrelevant because in Me’ekamui’s view there is no BCL.
JOHN JAINTONG: Me’ekamui’s view is that there is no Bougainville Copper, because in 1989 when the mine was closed, Bougainville Copper walked away, got paid off with a large compensation for loss of business and loss of property. And to Me’ekamui, the mine has ceased to exist since 1989. And the land now returned to the people. To Me’ekamui, which represents the landowners who own the land, there is no company. So why get 17.4% of something that they already have 100% of. Who is Rio Tinto anyway to say OK, I give you back 17% of something that they don’t own?
DON WISEMAN: So would the Me’ekamui look at mining projects, anywhere in Bougainville?
JJ: Well, they’re not saying no to mining. But over the last couple of years, they’ve given [outlined] the process to how to handle the issue, leading up to the reopening of the mine. And leaders, politicians simply ignored it. They’re not against the mine totally. All they want is that the processes must be allowed to complete. Like, OK there were twenty-thousand lives lost. All they want to do is… Me’ekamui has to prepare a traditional feast and that can only be hosted by Bougainville chiefs. Now after that has been done, then they can move towards the next process of talking about the mine, whether with Bougainville Copper or somebody else.
DW: This critical issue for you at this point is the reconciliation?
JJ: That’s correct. And Chris has accused PNG and Bougainville leaders of being insensitive to the situation, the critical situation. And to him I think the peace process, that we all worked hard to put together, has been broken because, to him, the leaders of Bougainville have gone back to bed with the enemy – the enemy being Rio Tinto, or Bougainville Copper, for this matter.
DW: Well, it’s all very well for Chris Uma to criticise but this is the elected government. This is what the majority of people on Bougainville voted for, so don’t they have the right to be making the decisions rather than you guys?
JJ: Yeah, that’s true but Chris runs Me’ekamui – that remains outside of the peace process – so it’s a very critical situation. Now, Me’ekamui has still got 100% of the arms. Now this is a very deadly situation that I’m handling. And I speak for the people that if there’s any leader listening, they must know that the situation is very bad and now Chris is saying that the ABG has broken the peace process by going to be with the enemy, they are not listening to the wishes of the people. And these are the people with the guns, that they’re not listening to.
DW: Now in 2019, the province is to have this vote on possible independence. Is this something that the Me’ekamui under Chris Uma supports?
JJ: Well, first thing first. The way they’re going, it looks like more leaders on Bougainville is worried about the economic factors, soemthing like Bougainville Copper should be re-opened. But for it to reopen we must comply with the customary obligations. Don, I’ll give you a background: on Bougainville, the land is owned by the chiefs, and controlled by the chiefs. Whether you are in government, ABG or not, Me’ekamui under Chris Uma are saying no, ABG has no right to deal with land matters. It’s saying land matters completely remains the power that belongs to the traditional chiefs of Bougainville.
DW: If this reconciliation that you’re talking about was to go ahead and go ahead properly, would the Me’ekamui then allow themselves to be fully re-incorporated back into Bougainville?
JJ: Yes, that’s correct, that’s the only thing holding them back. They want to see that’s done quickly and amicably. Now to give you how they want it played out – they want it hosted by Chris Uma on behalf of the paramount chiefs of Bougainville who own the land and the prime minister of Papua New Guinea, but not by ABG. And Chris has been very vocal on this over the last few days in the media that he has not given John Momis the mandate to negotiate with Rio Tinto.