Bougainville landowners close Buka airport
Bougainville landowners in dispute over Buka Airport land.
Landowners in Papua New Guinea's Bougainville area have threatened to close Buka airport again if their demands are not met.
A group from Ieta Village occupied the runway and sent a message to the authorities of the airport's closure on Tuesday.
The Bougainville Chief Administrator negotiated an agreement with the landowners to reopen the airport.
Chris Siriosi told Koro Vaka'uta they want to know that over two million US dollars worth of compensation for the land is coming.
CHRIS SIRIOSI: The agreement is basically related to the outstanding compensation amounts of money owed to the customary owners who made the land available some years ago for the airport to be built on. That money has been made available by the National Government's Department of Lands. Our basic problem has been with the unity of the landowner groups. There are two different competing landowner groups. What the administration is seeking to do is to work with the landowners so they can unite under one organisation and have the money deposited in a single landowner group bank account.
KORO VAKA'UTA: So how can you get these two, ah, factions together?
CS: The government's commitment is to make sure that the funds are there, the compensation payments are there. Now it's for the landowners themselves to come up with some kind of arrangement under the auspices of the chiefs from various parts of Bougainville to stand ready to assist the landowners in resolving their difference. We're getting chiefs from Buka Island and parts of North Bougainville to work with the chiefs from Ieta to get them to unite.
KV: Is there any deadline for this to be fully resolved?
CS: The administration has been given a period of two weeks within which it must resolve the payments for the landowners. In which we must show evidence of the availability of the compensation. Now the issue of the unity of the landowners is a separate issue.
KV: And that compensation, can you confirm that it amounts to around about 5 million kina?
CS: Yes. The amount is 5 million kina and the cheque has been drawn up by the National Department to the tune of 5 million kina but we can't allow that to go to any of these landowner groups for the simple fact that it will cause problems. What we need to do is to ensure that the landowners are united so that they can receive their 5 million kina compensation.
KV: What happens if the groups can't get together? What will happen then?
CS: Our side of the bargain, our commitment is for us to make the money available. Now it's a matter for them to unite. We may have to enlist the help of chiefs from other regions of Bougainville to work with the chiefs of the village to come together and unite, using both custom and commonsense.
KV: Just in terms of that two week though, what was the ultimatum if you like?
CS: Well, after two weeks they will close the airport again. They will close the airport if I don't act to have evidence of the finances available. That translates into perhaps getting the cheque and locking it up in a safe here in Bougainville until they sort their differences out.
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