Posts Categorized: Bougainville Crisis

The evolution of the Bougainville Peace Building Program

By Eleanor Maineke

684-bpbp-interim-meeting The BPBP Interim Governing Council Members during the 1st Council Meeting on the 28th of September 2015 at the Lumankoa Conference Room in Buka.

The Bougainville Peace Building Program (BPBP) is a partnership program between the Australian’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG).

BPBP is funded through DFAT’s program Strongim Pipol Strongim Nesen (SPSN) and was enacted in November 2011 through a Bougainville Executive Council policy decision.

BPBP is currently operating out of its office located in Arawa, Central Bougainville.

BPBP, which currently operates out of an office located in Arawa, started as Panguna Peace Building Strategy in the year 2011 in Panguna district. It was focused in Panguna area because of the fact that Panguna was the epicentre of the Bougainville Crisis and was under the SPSN’s small grant projects.

As time went on PPBS stretched out to other districts of Bougainville to cater for all the districts especially in regard to outstanding crisis cases. Thus the PPBS was changed to BPBP in 2014 and was witnessed by the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Hon. Julie Bishop MP, who was present at the Arawa Coordinating Office of Bougainville Peace Building Program.

During the time when the program was concentrated in the Panguna area, the governing body was called the Panguna Joint Supervisory Committee (PJSC) and was the decision making body for the project. The Committee consisted of the key stakeholders especially the Meekamui, Women’s representatives and the ex-combatants of the Panguna area and the then Mining Minister, Michael Oni, was the Co-Chairman of the Governing Council.

After the 3rd House of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville was elected, the Interim Governing Council of BPBP had their first meeting on the 28th of September 2015 at the Lumankoa Conference Room in Buka Island.

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The 25 year history of Rememberance Day

By Tevu Tenasi

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May 17 1990 is one of the greatest events in the history of Bougainville, marked in the Bougainville calendar as Independence was declared.

In Arawa on that day the Late Francis Ona made the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, one which is only acknowledged by one party.

In 1997, the term Remembrance Day began to be used in order to depoliticise the occasion and ensured respect was paid to the lost on all sides.

Since then the Remembrance Day was relatively quietly observed over the years, until 17 May 2013 when Bougainville President, Chief Dr John Momis announced at the the 23rd anniversary of UDI that the date was to be gazetted as a public holiday.

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The following year, in the early hours of 17 May 2014, Bougainvilleans observed the 24th UDI in remembrance to the Bougainville Crisis fallen heroes.

A gun salute in the early hours was done in Arawa town and also other similar celebrations were held in Bel Isi Park in North Bougainville and also in Buin.

In South Nasioi constituency an occasion was held in Sianare village highlighted by a flag raising ceremony and other traditional dancers especially from the Kurai Primary School Students. The students had a chance to be informed about the significance of the event.

A speech from the Paramount chief of the community was delivered encouraging students to pursue education as a vital tool for future development in the region.

Today while we salute our fallen heroes and remember the lives lost, we also ought to teach Bougainville history to our children so that they don’t go off track.

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The day of bullets

Benjamin Heriberth Noibio

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The Bougainville Crisis triggered people to become nomadic, migrating continuously from place to place to escape conflict and violence.

My family went up to the mountains of Kokousino and Keremona; I was very little so I did not fully comprehend the severity of the situation.

What I loved most at that time was playing around the houses and chasing grasshoppers in the field with other children. The only days where mama could stop me from playing and do my chasing is when a dead body, either a Bougainville Revolutionary Army solider or a civilian, was brought to our village hideaway for mourning.

Life seemed to be enjoyable to me as a little kid however the opposite had happened in 1994 that made me realise that we were fugitives on this planet.

In that year the Bougainville Crisis was at its highest peak and the bloodshed was inescapable as people from all over Bougainville suffered from the blockade imposed on Bougainville.

Tabago was set up as a care centre and civilians who couldn’t survive in the bush had to surrender to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) and they were given a place to reside in the care centre. Sick patients and old people who are unable to walk in the bush were also brought to the Tabago care centre by the Bougainville Resistance Force who worked alongside the PNGDF.

It was 17th of May 1994 when my mama and I where outdoors with some others getting ready to celebrate what was called Mekamui Day. Parents, guardians, women and children were enjoying themselves weaving their shiny grass skirts near an old church building.

I left my mama and went again to the field to chase grasshoppers, oblivious to the chaotic turn the day was about to take. I left the other little boys near the old building and start doing my own things and just then a huge bowl of smoke went up in the sky from the village; a signal to the PNDF.

After the smoke was up in the sky I heard a helicopter coming towards our hiding village. I ran to a nearby small tree to get out of sight because my mama had told me that whenever I hear a helicopter I must hide. The helicopter came and flew southwards. This confused everybody and I didn’t take into consideration that the people on the helicopter had already inspected what was happening in the middle of our hiding village.

The community then began to divide into groups according to their performances items; there were groups getting ready to present a string band with old guitars, on the other side there was a group getting ready to present the Solomon Dance, a famous dance which most of the Bougainville people know and can recall without proper practice. There were also other groups in the far end corner preparing a bamboo band.

After an hour, the huge black Iroquois helicopter came over us about 50 metres in the air.

I ran like a wild animal near an old church building to hide and as I hid under the benches I heard the loud noise of the gunner’s rifles spraying our village from the Iroquois.

A loud cry from the mothers came into my ear; this made me come out of the bench and run in the direction of my mama. I ran with bullets missing me from the air and tearing into the soil. I was heard noises of bullets missing my little body, but still I did not realise my predicament.

I went into an old meeting house (Apaito) and was lost, confused and shivering with fear. Everyone left the village and went into the bushes; even the domestic animals went away. The smell of the bullet powders and the jet fuel of the Iroquois dominated the atmosphere, with smoke rising from bullet holes. The gunner from the Iroquois continuously fired and I ran from there the meeting house towards a nearby creek. I leapt in to the drain, my adrenaline taking away any thoughts of getting hurt, was able to find a cave to hide in. Here I waited for 30 minutes until everything was quiet.

I climbed up the drain and crept out of the bushes slowly, with fear still in my little eyes.

When I was just about to reach a first house, I heard people crying on the far end of the village. I ran with sweat falling as raindrops from my face.

I was astonished to see Jacob, a young man, seriously wounded. It was my first time to see a person who was shot by a bullet. I saw his blood pumping out like thick red wine spilling out to the ground and, just as I was about to faint, I felt mama’s hand holding me and lifting me up to her chest. She was crying as if I was already dead and mumbling incomprehensibly to herself.

All I can remember today was a woman who was crying and saying, “you stupid PNGDF, you are not supposed to be shooting at civilians.”

We were confused about what to do next. There was no hospital or clinic to get treatment from and the wounded fellow was just about to lose his life when a bush doctor appeared with traditional medicine. He helped our patient with his bush medicine and was able to cease the flow of blood from his body.

After the incident we moved again to a different area; we left our taro and banana gardens when they were already in the season for harvesting.

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Referendum committee visits Port Moresby students

By Benjamin Heriberth Noibio

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The Bougainville Referendum Committee has made time to visit tertiary students in Port Moresby, while they were in the Papua New Guinea capital for discussions with the National Government.

The committee, under the leadership of chairman Hon. Joseph Watawi, participated in the two day session and then made time to visit Pacific Adventist University (PAU) students.

The students were honoured to host Hon. Joseph Watawi MP (member for Selau), Mr. Thomas Tari (South Bougainville former combatant representative), Ms. Marceline Kokiai (Central Bougainville Women’s representative), Mr. Dominic Itta (member for Kongara) and two officers from the Bougainville House of Representatives.

The main purpose of their visit is to gather information and opinions from the students regarding the referendum on independence in Bougainville in the coming years. The students kicked off formal proceedings with welcome speeches by PAU Bougainville Students Union president, Fabien Epota, and students’ representative, Benjamin Heriberth Noibio, with closing remarks provided by Jonathan Bataru.666-pacific-adventist-referendum-committee

The parliamentarians then presented speeches emphasizing the current stand of Bougainville and what needs to be done prior to the referendum.

“Referendum on Bougainville is on our hands, we will not get Referendum on a golden plate, we have to work towards it; referendum is currently like a huge parcel that we really need to unwrap it, said Hon. Joseph Watawi.

The team is working on setting a date and minimum age that will be able to vote in the referendum. They are putting their blood, sweat and tears in attempting to resolve the questions that remainin.

“Referendum is not a stand-alone thing, we need to unify with each other,” Ms. Marceline Kokiai said.

The big question on the students’ minds was ‘what if we don’t get a referendum?’ and the same question was also raised by the students at University of Papua New Guinea when the team visited  the previous week. The committee said that are working on the practical questions at this stage. Many such questions are good because they encourages a lot and can be used as guide lines while working towards the ultimate goal.

There is a need to raise awareness of the realities of the Bougainville crisis, the peace agreement and the upcoming referendum. The nature of the referendum must be clear to the people so that they will be in a better position to make their decision when the time comes.

As far as the awareness is concerned, the tertiary students must be involved in assiting deep into their various families and communities. It is now our time to educate the ones in rural areas about the referendum, autonomy, independence and weapons disposal. The referendum team was satisfied and students were encouraged to help disseminate information.

“We the students have learned a lot, even though this is on short notice to many of us,” Mr. Epota said.

“We are the future leaders of Bougainville and we must be aware of our current statues.”

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John Roka’s final day

By Leonard Fong Roka

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On the morning of 18 March 1993, when my late dad John Roka was taken from our Pomong Hamlet in the Kupe Village for his second interview (this time the BRA men from Kupe and Pooma Villages who came to escort him away said it was BRA Chief Ishmael Toroama’s turn to interview him), dad wore simple clothing for his fateful date.

He had white pants, a blue trousers and a white t-shirt with some Australian designs in the front. He also had a finger-ring type rosary he was using for his prayers and a fancy wrist watch.

Kapanasi, a small hamlet in the Siae Village of North Nasioi Constituency, was the setting that day in 1993 for a BRA administered village court to settle issues amongst the locals of the Siae-Pooma area.

There were many locals gathered around. Amongst them were armed local BRA men who had curious eyes on him. Many want him dead, but he remained aloof for the moment; others hovered around him listening to his stories curious of what life was like in the PNGDF controlled areas, especially Arawa Town.

According to my mother, dad was so relaxed on his final day of life. He was there under the shimmering heat of the sun chewing betelnut with one of his killers, Hendry Dupinu, and others. They shared tales like old friends watching the day winding rapidly down.

During this sharing and friendly gossip my father removed his shirt and had it dangling down one of his shoulders.

Just as the people became bored and decided to make their way home, the perpetrators of my father’s death appeared down the road. Dad remained relaxed in prayer and David Lompu made it straight to my dad angrily, demanding he remove his wrist watch and asking him where he had come from and why.

After a stream of minutes struggling with my defensive mother, Steven Topesi had a bullet through his head and the man dad was sharing betelnut with, Hendry Dupinu, finished him off.

The second the BRA men appeared the entire Kapanasi Hamlet was deserted as people fled in fear. The few who stood by in shock were Mr Bario and his son Boirinu, residents of the hamlet, a handful of other relatives and two other Pooma villagers.

Seeing no one around, the BRA demanded the family to bury my father’s body in the hamlet lawn. But the family resisted that it was their home where their children play and live.

Thus the family, at gun point, collected pieces of my father’s brains and skull and wrapped them in his shirt. They then wrapped his body in a piece of broken canvass and laid him in their cocoa plot.

On the afternoon 9 October 2015, after reconciling with Steven Topesi, his brother Diutepa, David Lompu and a representative of Hendry Dupinu, the Bario family led the unearthing of my father’s remains.

The unearthing began from his leg-side of the grave.  Since the tomb was knee-deep originally, his lower leg bones appeared first. Slowly and carefully they removed all the earth and the blue canvass was seen by all.

The Roka family unearthed John Roka's bones in order to burn them in the custom of Kieta. The Roka family unearthed the bones in order to burn them in the custom of Kieta.

Bones that made up his toes and lower leg came up carefully. Then the canvass was opened and there dad’s 1993 shirt, short and underwear appeared intact. Only the skull was smashed by the impact of those 1993 gunshots. There was no bullet mark in the chest plate for a .22 hunting rifle was used by Hendry Dupinu.

“We are unearthing so many crisis victims, but I never ever seen one with all his clothes intact,” one attendee said to me.

“Your father’s case is different. All his clothes are still the same; you can wear them if you like.

“His bones are also reddish because of the blood that built up and decomposed in the canvass wrapping.

“In other parts we had collected entirely wide bones and absolutely no clothes in the tombs. Your father was a man of God and so was he innocent to die like this.”

Our family bathed the bones and packed them into a tiny coffin.  His clothes were also tucked away into a bucket afterwards and brought home to Panguna where we a keeping them for a proper burning in 2016 in accordance to our traditional customary practices in Kieta.

My late dad’s clothes will be burned with a little feast of burning (katee) alongside my daughter Dollorose Fong Roka’s collection of belongings by 17 or 18 September 2016, the first anniversary of her death.

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Reconciliation & burial for Daddy John brings peace to Roka family

By Leonard Fong Roka

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On 18 March 1993, Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) commander Steven Topesi led a group of about 30 fighters to kill my unarmed and innocent father. The group were sent a message by other BRA men and village elders from then our home, Kupe Village in North Nasioi Constituency, claiming that they had discovered and captured a PNG spy.

After a brief struggle with my mother, Therese Pokamari, who was protesting and protective of her husband, Steven Topesi fired the M16 round that penetrated his skull from the face. When he had landed on the ground and gasping for breath another BRA man, Hendry Dupinu, finished him off with a .22 rifle round through the chest twice.

After 22 years, I and my siblings with our mother stood face-to-face with Steven Topesi and two of his men Diutepa and David Lompu (Hendry Dupinu was represented by his uncle) to reconcile for the good of our Bougainville.

We reached the reconciliation venue in Arawa Town’s Section 6 on 9 October 2015 and there were ABG parliamentarians, former ABG politicians and other respected leaders including former BRA fighters and resistance fighters.

Disembarking from the transport, I scanned the area for the BRA men I have heard since 1993 (recorded in Chapter 7 of my Bougainville Crisis memoir, Brokenville) and with whom I was to hold hands.

Back in 1993 my family gleaned that Diutepa (the elder brother of Steven Topesi) was the man who fired the first shot at my father’s head, followed my Hendry Dupinu.

I was occupied trying to figure out the men when the call came for my family to take one side of the ceremonial venue while the 3 BRA men took the other side for the ceremony to begin.

They lined up at one end of the venue. The ceremony began the cultural way known in Nasioi as the karekara (coming home or peace); we had to exchange betel-nut and chew. After that we all marched to a newly dug up hole and spit into it. Then a senior person in the gathering places a rock on the spittle and the contents are buried signifying that the row is over.

After the sharing and chewing of the areca-nut came the moment of sharing and eating of food between us the victims (me, my siblings, our mother and the other West New Britain relatives) and the perpetrators (the 3 BRA men and the Henry Dupinu’s uncle) while the gathering watched on.

After the session of betelnut and food came the final part of the event and that is the shaking of hands; the giving of dukuu (Solomon archipelago shell money) and some cash by the perpetrators to my family.

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I and my sister, Theonilla, represented our Panguna family and our late father’s sister, Helen Devoku, represented my late father’s family on Bali Island, West New Britain. On the BRA side stood Steven Topesi, his brother Diutepa and David Lompu.

Topesi, who fired the initial shot at my father, led the way to my aunty Helen Devoku. They took each other’s hands; and Topesi sobbed his remarks. His emphasized message was that my father had greatly invested for the good of Bougainville through us his children who have so far climbed higher in education.

My weeping aunty who had travelled all the way from Kimbe for this moment wept her acceptance. Then Topesi placed the dukuu around aunt’s neck and shook her hands with the little cash and they disengaged.

Diutepa did the same with Theonilla and David Lompu had me. All of us were emotional and open. We were free and I felt my life was complete.

All the speeches that followed featured one thing and that is reconciliation of crisis related issues was the key to the betterment of Bougainville.

“You have to tell me the truth about my father and I will feel peace in my heart and together we built our Bougainville, for you and I are all victims,” I said to the BRA men.

“Our island Bougainville was damned by colonization.”

After having the food that was prepared my family left to Kapanasi Hamlet of Siae Village to finally unearth the remains of my father that was buried there by the residents at BRA gunpoint on 18 March 1993.

We drove home and overnighted with many other family friends and relatives at our Mako’si Hamlet in the Tumpusiong Valley of Panguna District. In the morning of 10 October 2015, a priest celebrated mass and together the gathering laid my father to rest at our Enamira family cemetery.

I was enslaved by injustice from my own people from 1993 to 2015. From 18 March 1993 to 8 October 2015, the road was painful and cruel. On 9 October 2015 when I shook hands with the BRA men and saw the remains of my father in the tiny coffin, I felt freedom and peace, for my father had sacrificed his life for the love of Bougainville and Bougainvilleans.

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New programme addresses the roots of gender-based violence

A new programme to prevent violence against women in Bougainville was launched in March.

Planim Save, Kamap Strongpela (Plant Knowledge, Grow Strong) will be jointly led by UN Women and UNICEF PNG and funded under the UN Peace Building Fund in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

Planim Save will provide community peacebuilding on Bougainville in order to address the ongoing issue of post-conflict trauma, which is a major contributor to the regions high levels of violence, particularly gender-based violence.

While peacebuilding processes exist already exist in the autonomous region, Planim Save has a specific focus on gender-based violence and negative gender norms.

South Bougainville will be the setting for a pilot programme and the curriculum will be developed in congruence with local culture. The southern region was chosen because it is seen as a hot spot for violence and conflict.

The project document identifies the presence of weapons in the community, the Konnou crisis and the informal trade of alcohol and weapons with the Solomon Islands as some the reasons the south of Bougainville is ideal for the pilot. Buin has been identified in particular as a district where women and youths have not often been participants in community decision making.

Planim Save has two key strategies that, it is hoped, will lead to greater support for traumatised persons and a reduced level of gender-based violence.

The first strategy is to increase the level of awareness, information and conversation on gender, human rights & gender based violence, trauma & healing and positive relationship skills among ex-combatants, community leaders, women and youths. This will be achieved with the development of a locally driven curriculum, the identification and training of community facilitators, the initiation of regular conversations within the community, the support of community of counsellors and the involvement of Councils of Elders in planning.

The second strategy implemented by Planim Save is to improve the support structures available to traumatised persons and survivors of gender based violence. This will involve building capacity of support services including training for medical staff, police and magistrates. This will be made possible with additional support staff at Family Support Centres, increased training services and a series of radio infomercials to publicise the centres.

After the eighteen month programme is completed an evaluation will provide insights in to the best approaches to violence prevention in the region.

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A reflection on 2014 – an historic year for Bougainville

By Ishmael Palipal

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People at the tarmac of Aropa Airport during the opening ceremony.

2014 was a great year in the history of Bougainville. Let us not yet put away the important events that will later be known as Bougainville history.

Since I have been writing on many of these events I would like to just briefly reflect back on the major events of 2014 and show that we can do much better in 2015 and beyond.

First of all as a post-conflict region that will soon make a decision on becoming a nation, we have so far gone through a lot of thick and thin, but here we fancy highlighting the positive happenings. Through positive thinking and action we’ll prosper.

2014 begun on a high note for our region with the goodwill visit from Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Hon. Peter O’Neill, who came from January 27-29. He became the first ever Prime Minister to visit to central Bougainville since the Bougainville Crisis. The Prime Minister visited Buka, Buin, Panguna and Arawa and his stated aim was to foster peace and unity amongst leaders from Bougainville and PNG.

He made it his priority to see that infrastructural development takes place in Bougainville and this has been evident with the re-opening of the Post PNG, Motor Vehicle Insurance Limited, Department of Works, and Air Niugini Ticketing Office, amongst others. The visit by Prime Minister O’Neill also paved the way for the re-opening of the Aropa Airport which is currently in use by traveling public now.

The National Government Minister for National Planning & Monitoring, Hon. Charles Abel, followed suit by coming to Bougainville to open a number of national government funded projects. These included opening of classrooms in primary, high secondary schools. These facilities will enable and cater for the increased enrolment of school students throughout Bougainville. The Minister had the privilege to meet with the staff of the Arawa Health Centre who presented him with a proposal to upgrade the facility’s status from health centre to hospital.

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MV Chebu being welcomed at the Buka passage by outboard motors.

On November 11 2014 we witnessed the arrival of the newly bought Bougainvillean ship at Buka. The new ship, MV Chebu, is a joint venture with the Chow family and was bought to minimize the cost of travelling to other provinces. It is now serving the route from Buka through Rabaul, Lae and back.

The day after the arrival of MV Chebu it ferried about 350 plus Bougainvillean athletes to Lae for the 6th Papua New Guinea Games. Bougainville, without much in the way of proper sporting facilities and equipment, came fourth out of 21 provinces that took part in the games.

The re-opening of the Aropa International Airport in the lead up to the festive season of Christmas and New Year was a very memorable event, witnessed by many. The airport was jointly opened by Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, and ABG President, Chief Dr John Momis, and is now serving the people of central and south Bougainville. It marks the opening of a new era and is the biggest of all the recent achievements.

New developments are set for 2015 including the general election for the Autonomous Bougainville Government. The government that will be formed from this election is vital for the future of our region and will lead Bougainville to a referendum on autonomy and independence. I therefore would like to urge all our people to think carefully and choose the right leaders to carry us forward.

Do not choose a leader because he gives you money or because he is your wantok, choose a leader that will help you for a long run. Remember, we have suffered enough through the years of civil war and now we see many still suffering because of our own choices.

We must screen and decide the right leaders who will carry us forward with justice, equality and honesty. No mothers should continue to shed their tears because of a lack of services provided; no children should continue to suffer because of corruption, injustice or self-gain and Bougainville should move higher with healthy and honest leaders in place this year.

We are in a critical period now for our journey to achieve referendum and the onus is now upon us Bougainvilleans to work together in peace and unity.

Remember, your vote in this ABG Election can break or mend Bougainville!

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Former enemies leave the past behind to move AROB forward

By Gideon Davika

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J4.2 Holdings is a construction company operating in south Bougainville which is currently working on the publicly funded feeder road maintenance instigated by Governor Joe Lera.

The company is owned by former members of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and Resistance Army, fighters from opposite sides of the Bougainville Crisis.

The former fighters have decided to forget about the past and move on to work towards developing Bougainville. They believe that if they kept thinking about the past and holding their old grudges, nothing will happen in Bougainville.

In an interview with some of the workers, they talked about how they used to fight with each other when they were not on the same side during the Crisis.

The bulldozer operator, who hails from Siwai, is one of those who joined the PNG Defence Force during the crisis. His hand was shot during an ambush setup by some of his co-workers at J4.2 Holdings, who were part of the BRA at the same time.

The company is now expanding and they want to show  others, especially those who are psychologically affected by the crisis, that it is time to forget about the past and move on to a new life. The past is gone and now is time to start a new Bougainville.

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Our mountainous hideaway during the Crisis

499-mountain-home-crisisBy Gideon Davika

When I was born in 1992, during the Bougainville Crisis, we moved from our village where we were staying further up to the mountainous region.

There my dad built a two bedroom house on my grandmother’s customary land.

After three years at this new place my small sister was born and in 1995 we were the only two kids in our small village, which was more like a hideout or a bush camp.

When I was growing up in this small rugged house I began to realise what was going on. I could see men with guns coming to our village with my dad.

I was also beginning to figure out how worried my mum was when my dad was engaged with the war. She stayed quietly in the house and told us not to make noise or play around.

As our house was right at the edge of the mountain, during the night we could clearly see bullets flying at Aropa Airport where the PNG defence force were camped.

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