RICHES AHEAD FOR BOUGAINVILLE AS WAR ENDS

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By Michael J. Field

BOUGAINVILLE, Papua New Guinea (May 1, 1998 - Agence France-Presse)--- The multi-million dollar economics of aid and development, rather than guns and savagery, will determine whether this war weary Papua New Guinea island can find meaningful peace.

The huge Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto-owned Panguna copper mine on the island has been deliberately removed from the economic equation. A decade ago it provided nearly half of PNG's export earnings, but both Australia and New Zealand say they believe it will now stay closed.

The warring sides in the 10 year long civil war signed a peace treaty Thursday which will be followed by around 100 million Australian dollars (78 million U.S. dollars) in Australian aid and smaller amounts of New Zealand, European Union and International Red Cross and United Nations support.

Roads, hospitals, homes, communications and water supplies need rebuilding on this 10,660 square kilometer (4,100 square mile) island, home to 160,000 people. A lush island with strong agricultural and fisheries potential, Bougainville is set to be a gold mine for Australian business.

Not too far down the track, its amazing beauty will also pull in tourists.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Don McKinnon said he wants to see development that is people intensive. Rather than providing bulldozers, he would rather hire local people with shovels to rebuild the roads.

"The people on Bougainville have absolutely nothing, and it will be the little things that will make so much difference."

Bougainville has a nearly 50 year long history of trying to separate from what is now Papua New Guinea, but it was Panguna's environmental damage that sparked the war.

The peace treaty makes no reference to the mine.

McKinnon, who stressed New Zealand believed it was the local people's decision on whether the mine should open or not, said it would take at least half a billion dollars to re-open it, and he doubted it would be productive again within a decade.

The rebels here have long suspected Australia of only being interested in the mine, and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer used the peace ceremony to try to ally suspicion.

"Australia has no other agenda than the agenda for peace," he said. "We have no mining agenda."

Diplomatic sources told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Rio Tinto, which is the majority owner of Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), had made it quietly clear they were not at all keen about returning to Panguna. They had already written off the investment and did not want to risk more money re-opening the mine.

There was also doubt that the relatively low yields of Panguna justified re-opening.

However, the sources said it was not so much a question of opening Panguna, but rather of coming up with an acceptable new exploration and mining regime for the island. Vast oil, gas, nickel and gold discoveries have been made in PNG and nearby Solomon Islands and New Caledonia, and experts say there is little doubt Bougainville has other riches.

But until Panguna's fate is settled, mining exploration and development is highly unlikely.

Intriguingly a couple of the richest people in Bougainville are rebel leaders Francis Ona and Joseph Kabui.

Ona, who refuses to join the peace process but does not actively oppose it, heads the clan which owns the Panguna mine land. BCL has continued to pay into the Ona family trust fund, which is now estimated to be worth 10 million dollars. Kabui, on whose land the tailings have been dumped, is worth about the same.

Bougainville MP John Momis said at the peace ceremony that the crisis had been the result of the island's people being "mere spectators" in economic activities.

"It is now the role of the government and others who played the major role in terms of resource exploitation to see how best they should address this problem," he said.

When Bougainville's decade long civil war finally came to an official end in the shattered town of Arawa on Thursday it was a somber almost sad affair.

Around 2,000 people, some of the poorest people on the planet, watched without smiles or laughter or tears. You could only see their tiredness, their weariness at war and how they had been cut off from the world for so long.

But, despite the incredible heat, most of the people stayed to listen to 20 speeches through the day, each proclaiming the war was over.

Three speeches from the rebel Bougainville Interim Government (BIG) and Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) mattered.

BRA's charismatic and handsome military commander Sam Kauona said it simply in sweet sounding Tok Pisin (Pidgin); "Today we finish the long war on Bougainville." Joseph Kabui, the heavily bearded Vice President of BIG, was equally emphatic: "We must stop now."

Next day in Port Moresby the newspapers were delighted. "War is over," said the Post -Courier. "Peace at last," said the National.

For Foreign Minister Don McKinnon and his counterpart from Australia, Alexander Downer, Fiji's Bernando Vunibobo and Vanuatu's Clement Leo, the day began before dawn when three Hercules aircraft left Port Moresby for the two-hour flight to the newly repaired airport at Aropa.

Two years ago the PNG Defense Force (PNGDF) had staged Operation High Speed at Aropa. They landed in force along the beach by the runway but never got across the runway. Although a guerrilla army, the BRA fought a fixed battle at Aropa and won decisively.

As a consequence, then PNG Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan began negotiations to hire Executive Outcomes, also known as Sandline, who would provide South African and British mercenaries. Their plan, it now seems, was to fly a heavily armed squad into the Panguna copper mine in the dark mountains, and kill or capture the mysterious leader of BRA, Francis Ona. Instead the PNGDF, incapable of winning on the battlefield, staged a revolt in Port Moresby and overthrew Chan.

New Zealand, along with the rest of the Pacific, had declined to be involved in Bougainville until that point, claiming it was a domestic affair. But McKinnon began taking risks and put senior diplomat John Hayes in harm's way by getting him talking, face-to-face, with Ona and the others. The result was the Burnham truce last year, the installation of the unarmed Truce Monitoring Group (TMG) and angry diplomatic traffic between Canberra and Wellington.

PNG Prime Minister Bill Skate had gone ahead to Bougainville and, on the day of the peace signing, he walked with Kabui to a stage set up at Independence Park in Awara. Skate, a former hood from Port Moresby's mean streets, seems to have real empathy with the rebel leadership.

Francis Ona, though, was not there but, significantly, he did not try to stop it either.

After being helicoptered in from Aropa to Awara, the witnesses of peace, McKinnon in an All Black's hat and Downer in an orange TMG hat, walked accompanied by women who chanted hypnotically.

Everybody involved in the process says peace came because the women of the island demanded it.

"The women of Bougainville look after peace as if it were their child," said McKinnon.

Josephine Kauona, the rebel commander's wife said she was a simple mother.

"I am at a loss for words. I am so glad that you have come and how much we have longed for this day," she said.

Kabui, too, honored the women. "We have responded to the cries of mothers and children of Bougainville. I hope President Francis Ona will hear the cries of the people. I have confidence that this ceremony will bear fruit. The people have spoken."

The applause after those comments was unusual; emotions were withdrawn and dark usually.

It felt, at times, like the war zone it was. Despite the stunning beauty of Bougainville, the devastation cannot be hidden. Every where there is ruin and the now Australian dominated TMG was cautious about what was happening. Orange Australian Iroquois helicopters patrolled the nearby hills and, while not a single modern weapon was seen, the TMG instructed visitors on an evacuation procedure should things go wrong.

As the afternoon wore on, a big group of BRA supporters slowly danced towards the park. It was a spooky, ominous sound as they came, and people were unsure of what was happening. Before the VIPs they danced in a tight and almost frantic circle, the ground pounding. Then several of them, with spears and bows and arrows, came forward. They were to have broken them, but instead gave them to the visitors. It seemed to have more meaning that the formality of the peace treaty signing with its legal language.

Bougainvilleans agree that it is they who need to make and keep the peace; but in handing their weapons of war to representatives of their Pacific neighbors they were also pleading for help.

Thursday marked the last full day in Bougainville for New Zealand command of the TMG. Tired and hot and ready to go home they had milled around the ceremony all day, watching as the Australians took over things.

As McKinnon made his speech, the New Zealand soldiers, men and women, sat in front. Suddenly the crowd came back quickly and one could hear, almost for the first time, laughter and some joy. The Kiwis are liked on Bougainville, and their culture is admired.

"This is your peace, not ours, and this process has worked because it is your process, not our process," McKinnon said.

With his final words the soldiers rose and, stripping off their shirts and to the absolute delight of the crowd, began a haka.

It recalled an earlier haka last year when the warring sides first gathered at Burnham and the army there, on a bitterly cold Saturday morning, had done a haka too. It is a kind of recognition among warriors, and of Pacific solidarity too.

With the haka done, and with newly promoted Captain Ester Harrop of Mt. Albert, leading, they sang a Maori love song and a moving Bougainville hymn about peace.

New Zealand is not leaving Bougainville, and while Thursday marked peace for its people, it also marked a Pacific maturity for New Zealand, the new peacemaker.

The future is changing in Bougainville at last.

Two boys walked up a street later laughing. They were no longer carrying guns -- they were delighting in a Gameboy.

Michael J. Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-MAIL: afp.nz@clear.net.nz

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