Romulus Masiu | Post Courier
ANY mining company wanting to re-open and operate the Panguna Mine will have to honour customary obligations first by settling the 20,000 lives lost and blood shed on the island during the Bougainville Crisis. This was the stand taken by former combatants during the 4th Regional Veterans Association Forum at Kangu Beach, Buin District in South Bougainville.
All speakers who spoke on the re-opening of the Panguna Mine agenda echoed the same sentiments, most calling for the re-opening of the mine as a priority. However, before the mine is re-opened settlement for the lives lost and blood shed must be customarily sorted out.
Former combatant from Wakunai Glynn Tovirika told the forum that the re-opening of the Panguna Mine is a must as the Autonomous Bougainville Government does not have the funding capacity at the moment to carry out its obligations to provide much-needed services to its population. However, before any mining company including Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) come in to operate, the customary obligation must be met.
“All the blood shed and lives lost during the conflict must be compensated…must be settled in our Bougainville custom. We have custom and such people who want to come and re-open the Panguna Mine must settle this outstanding issue,” Mr Tovirika told hundreds of veterans gathered in Buin last week.
Mr Tovirika said Panguna Mine was central to the Bougainville Crisis thus the cultural value of this place must be upheld.
“I don’t care who comes in to re-open the Panguna Mine, whether BCL or whoever, the story is the same…you have a customary obligation to abide by….and that is to pay for the blood and lives lost before you start digging our mine pit,” Mr Tovirika stated.
Peter Naguo, another outspoken ex-combatant from Buin told the forum that Panguna Mine and our island is cursed by those thousands of lives lost during the fight.
“Before the mine is re-opened we have a mammoth task on hand,” he said. ”That is to gather all the remains of those who died and put them at their right places. If we don’t do that and open the mine, things will definitely go wrong again because the lives lost are still crying out for a proper burial.”
Mr Naguo added that all the reconciliations must be completed before the mine is opened. All those present shared the same sentiment that outstanding issues on the mining including lives lost, environmental damage and other customary obligations must be adhered to before the opening of the mine becomes a reality.
At the back of their minds, the veterans, like the government and people of Bougainville really want the mine to be operational because the region does not have any strong base of revenue with only funding from the National Government and donors.