14 Sep 2015

Bougainville prepares for Panguna Bel Kol

From , 5:02 am on 14 September 2015

The government in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville says a resumption of mining is the only way the economy can quickly become viable.

It is seen as important that the region can stand on its own feet economically before a vote on possible independence from PNG can be held.

That vote is scheduled before 2020.

Key to resumption of mining is the re-opening of the Panguna mine which has been closed since the start of the civil war in 1989.

But before that can happen a reconciliation process has to take place.

This process, called 'Bel Kol' has been widely endorsed in Bougainville and Don Wiseman asked the chairman of the Panguna Upper Tailings Landowners Association, Michael Pariu, to explain its significance.

MICHAEL PARIU: According to our traditional custom here in Bougainville, even in Papua New Guinea, Bel Kol is the first sign where two enemies who have been enemies for some time come together. Before anything else it is more seen as a beginning process of a dialogue, just talking, to come to peace that want to come to peace.

DON WISEMAN: The Autonomous Bougainville Government is trying to organise Bel Kol in the Panguna area because it wants to resolve any residual issues ahead of possible talks on any reopening of the mine. Who would be involved in this Bel Kol process?

MP: According to what we have planned here, Bel Kol is actually the Panguna Landowners, those who have been affected by the mining as they came up that way. So the landowners have requested to do a Bel Kol and the ABG Autonomous Government to facilitate this process of Bel Kol. And this Bel Kol is to be between the Landowners of Panguna and BCL Bougainville Copper Ltd, and secondly with the Mekamui factions and BCL, and thirdly women - all women of Bougainville, and BCL and the ex-combatants of Bougainville, and BCL and the ABG, and BCL has to come all along. It is whole Bougainville is to combine together, it is whole Bougainville is to reconcile with Bougainville Copper Ltd - that is the process.

DW: And you have to go through this process before you can go to a point where you can talk about any reopening of the mine?

MP: Well that is the process. Once we have done this Bel Kol ceremony rituals then we sit down with the BCL then we can talk over the themes. There are a lot of issues that we can talk with BCL, we land owners, we are happy because BCL has accepted that they are open to come to Bel Kol and then we can start dialogue with them. To discuss issues about the Panguna land owners and affected landowners and all Bougainville all that process has to begin, has to begin after the Bel Kol that is the process.

DW: You are leading one of the Landowning groups in the Panguna area, the Panguna landowners are they supporting this possibility of the reopening of the mine?

MP: Landowners of Panguna they requested that after Bel Kol we sit down and we discuss and look at ways to resettle the villages, relocation of the villages, resettlement all these issues and environmental preservation or redevelopment of environment all this. Because all these things will lead up to the mine opening. So that is how the land owners are talking, and that is how the land owners are thinking, and land owners are coming along that way.

DW: Just to clarify then there are a lot of steps that need to be gone through before you would actually be in a position where you would consider that question of a reopening?

MP: Yes, it is not so long or too big, but mine opening is the last resort when we talk about all these things, and it's possible. And as and when the land owners are satisfied with this, because it is the start of the negotiations that is how it comes to. And for the simple people of Panguna landowners, they are looking along the line that mine opening would be the last thing and that is the climax that is the thing that will end up all these negotiations after the Bel Kol.

DW: There is a fringe group that has appeared calling themselves the Central Bougainville Hardliners who are opposed to the Bel Kol process. Do they have any sway do they have any weight?

MP: Well at the moment according to my understanding, Bougainville wide has supported the Bel Kol and most of the central they have supported the Bel Kol. And the authorities on the ground, the local level government, that is the council of elders in the central area they all support this Bel Kol. Even in the Northern and Southern regions they have supported that Bel Kol is the way forward. I don't have the information on this so called hard liners having weight, back up I don't believe that. Its just a few trouble makers they want to create more problems that is what they are doing.