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By Veronica Hatutasi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 3, 2000 – The Independent)---While the political negotiation for Bougainville’s future continues to reach a critical stage, life for the ordinary people on the island remains pretty much the same.

Residents are picking up the pieces from the aftermath of a conflict that has devastated all aspects of life and the very fabric of the society to a people previously reputed as peace loving.

Their main concerns now focuses on peace, normality, freedom, receiving health and education services, jobs, and improved road, sea and air transport services.

The popular three R’s for restoration, reconciliation and reconstruction are now all part of the day-to-day language on the island.

Many projects are either being implemented or put on hold until funding becomes available, despite the millions of kina, which we hear and read about and see on TV being poured into Bougainville.

To the majority of people on mainland Bougainville and even Buka Island, they do not see the fruits of the funds. As a result, many have given up waiting and use their own initiative to get things going.

However, funding from AusAID towards road infrastructure, health and education is clearly acknowledged.

The fruits are seen and felt by the people in the form of schools and teachers, nursing and hospital staff buildings, road maintenance and upgrading currently taking shape on the mainland.

Since the April 1998 cease-fire in the entire province, there have hardly been any major violations.

The presence of a United Nations team and the deployment of a Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) from the neighboring Pacific countries -- including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu since late 1997 -- has gone a long way in enhancing the peace process.

It has also brought about communication and cooperation between the warring factions as well as with the general populace on the island.

Regarding services, the general concern is that the Bougainville Interim Provincial Government (BPIG) seems to be too quiet and slow in delivering the much needed goods and services. This again falls back on shortage of funding, which officers of the BPIG say is a problem.

Current Issues

In a nutshell, the main issues on the island to date include:

§ Political negotiations with the national government on Bougainville’s highest autonomy and a guarantee of a referendum on independence; The majority of people support a highly autonomous Bougainville government with a referendum to be decided later;

§ Arms disposal be given priority to make way for genuine lasting peace and a political settlement reached freely and not under the barrel of guns;

§ Flow of services -- mainly health, education, infrastructure developments such as better roads, improved and regular shipping and air services for the transportation of market and cash crops and for the delivery of basic store goods such as clothing, garden and kitchen tools, basic amenities such as soap, kerosene, salt and medical and education supplies for school;

§ The presence and deployment on the mainland of law enforcement agencies such as police and the courts;

§ Mounting concerns on Bougainville regarding the social and health effects of homebrew and with the recent lifting of the 1990 liquor ban on Bougainville with no proper liquor licensing in place by provincial authorities, the problem is bound to escalate;

§ Calls by vulnerable groups including women and children, sick, frail and the elderly for authorities, chiefs and the district peace and good order committees as well as the BPIG to immediately to ban the carrying of offensive weapons such as bush knives, grass knives, axes and bows and arrows in public. The safety, security and lives of vulnerable groups, especially in some parts of the mainland, are at risk when young people under the influence of homebrew publicly carry offensive weapons and use them to get at each other and the public at large during arguments resulting in serious injuries and the disruption to the good order and harmonious living of families, communities and society;

§ For the national government and provincial authorities to immediately involve young ex-combatants in income earning incentives and projects which will help improve their lives and of their families. Projects should include cocoa and coconut rehabilitation, carpentry and the setting up of more vocational schools for young people. Funding from aid donors should be put to good use to help those sectors which are really in need such as the youths, women and children and those in the rural villages; and

§ Reconciliation at the district and provincial levels and among leaders of warring factions.

Peace Process

The process is moving ahead positively throughout the island with chiefs, village elders, church and women groups, leaders of the ex-combatants, peace officers, the PMG and the general community all involved.

According to Paul Mairaka, an officer with the Council of Elders of Pogo Local Level Government (LLG) in Siwai, many people are confused on the issue of reconciliation.

"Many people are confused. They think they will get outside funding to get reconciliation going. In the early stages, it was the peoples’ own initiative, mainly following traditional norms to get families, individuals and groups reconciled. However, the confusion emerged when politicians, bureaucrats and outsiders began handing out funding to conduct reconciliation ceremonies without giving much thought of encouraging them to continue because the process was theirs and to continue doing so even if there was a funding shortage. Reconciliation at the individual, family and clan levels continue while those at the district and provincial levels remain yet to be done.

"The presence of the PMG is still needed in Siwai and on the island, though at a reduced number. Their presence brings calm, reassurance and security and enhances the peace process," Mr. Mairaka said.

He said the PMGs presence is needed as long as arms disposal is not yet conducted.

Kaparo village chief and PMG committee member Simon Kupirake and village elder and Church worker Ludwig Hining stated that to achieve lasting peace on Bougainville, arms disposal must be given priority.

"Genuine peace will come about when laying down of arms occur. Peace talks are progressing but fear still remains. The fact that the BRA and other factions have yet to lay down arms is a matter of urgency as the peace process and political settlement will be hindered by guns," Chiefs Kupirake and Hining said.

Regarding funding, Mr. Mairaka said the district hardly gets a slice of the much orchestrated funding from aid agencies and donor countries.

He said North Solomons province has hardly received any government funding to date and health and education services are the most affected.

He acknowledged AusAID saying their assistance was appreciated especially towards the construction of classrooms, teachers houses, health center buildings, aid posts and others.

Political Process

Most people support a Bougainville government with the highest form of autonomy, as this will boost the province’s efforts to get on its feet with decisions on political, administrative, financial, social, developmental and matters on resources and their well being done at home.

"Autonomy. We are all for it. We want to see autonomy before making the next move towards a referendum," Mr. Mairaka said.

Arms Disposal

Communities want the leaders to immediately address the arms disposal issue since it is a hindrance to the peace process, the political settlement and the return to normality and a guarantee to individuals sense of freedom.

"We want leaders to immediately make a decision on arms disposal. The resistance already has a plan and strategy, which they presented to the United Nations resident representatives in Arawa. Many (resistance members) have already surrendered their guns except the BRA whose plans on the matter are yet forthcoming," Mr. Mairaka said.

Chiefs, elders and women whom The Independent spoke to expressed similar sentiments, reiterating the issue to be immediately addressed by the BPIG and the Bougainville Peoples Congress.

Chief Kupirake said further progress of the political and peace processes is locked by guns.

He said an agreement has already been signed by Sam Kauona, former BRA combat commander on arms surrender but the ultimate boss, Francis Ona, is yet to give the final say on the matter.

General Observation

Care centers are now a thing of the past on Bougainville and people are settling down in villages. They are rebuilding their houses and therefore urgently need assistance, including tools and basic building materials such as nails, hammers, saws and chain saws and fuel to cut timber.

Bougainvilleans are generally self-motivated. However, they need a bit of funding assistance to get small projects and cocoa and coconut rehabilitation going.

They want to establish pig and poultry projects, bakeries, sewing services and other small income earning activities. However, they need small start up capital, expertise and advice from the relevant agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and Livestock in conjunction with UNDP and the cocoa and coconut boards, Small Business Development Cooperation, governments, NGO’s and other groups interested in the restoration of peace and normality on Bougainville.

Many people who live in remote areas are still in need of basics such as clothing, garden tools and cooking and eating utensils.

Many schools on the island have reopened. However, from elementary to high, vocational and CODE there is a shortage of teachers, textbooks and basic materials for use by both students and teachers.

Many health centers are slowly reopening but, like the schools, they face a shortage of medical supplies. This is more due to transportation than funding problems.

Therefore, the call for better road, sea and air transport throughout the island must be addressed by leaders at both the national and provincial levels.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

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