Bougainville’s Toroama visits Ona’s rebel village 25 years after civil war

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The late Francis Ona and Panguna mine
The late BRA leader Francis Ona and Panguna mine ... “Within the first 18 months, we had closed the Panguna mine and begun our fight for political independence., says President Ishmael Toroama. Image: Ramumine

The National

Bougainville President Ishmael Toroama has visited Guava village in the heartland of the Panguna mine in Central Bougainville to pay his respects to the resting place of Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) leader Francis Ona.

It was the first time President Toroama had visited Guava in 25 years after the 1997 Roreinang coup that split the BRA into two factions.

Ona, who was president and supreme commander of the BRA, favoured a “fight to the last man’’ strategy.

The other faction, headed by his second-in-command Joseph Kabui, wanted a peaceful solution to the Bougainville Civil War.

President Toroama, who was then the BRA’s chief of defence, sided with Kabui and so began the peace talks that would result in a ceasefire and the eventual signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001.

Ona remained in Panguna with his Mekamui faction.

“As a young man, in 1989 I joined many others in the Bougainville Civil War,” Toroama said.

“We were not called, nor were we recruited.

‘Revolutionary ideals’
“We simply believed in Francis Ona’s revolutionary ideals to protect the land and our people,’’ Toroama said.

“Within the first 18 months, we had closed the Panguna mine and began our fight for political independence.

“We started the revolution with bows and arrows in 1989 but towards the end we were launching offensives against the security forces with better equipment and tactics.

“From 1989 to 1997 we gave our lives to protect Francis Ona and his dreams of independence for Bougainville,’’ President Toroama said.

“I am here today to remind the family of Francis Ona and the people of Guava and Panguna that my commitment to the revolutionary ideals of our leader has not wavered.’’

Republished with permission.

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