It was a brutal civil war right on our doorstep and it cost thousands of lives. The conflict in
REPORTER: Brian Thomson
It is a land of striking beauty, a picture postcard island, abundant in natural resources.
JOHN MOMIS, BOUGAINVILLE PRESIDENT: The vast majority of Bougainvilleans, I would say over 97%, want the mine to be open. The ex-combatants, some of them are still holding on to guns, want the mine to be opened.
But as we will find out, not before they are compensated for the past. We leave by boat from the capital Buka, then it is a bone rattling five hour trip to the mine itself - a journey through battle sites and burnt-out remnants of a past that promised so much and delivered so little.
The problem for the government is there they may be attempting to negotiate the reopening of the mine - the reality is that they do not control the area around it. It is an effective no-go zone and former rebels operate a roadblock, with the assistance of former members of the
The rebel faction that man's the road block is called the Mekamui. They did not participate in the peace agreement that ended the war and they remain both armed and dangerous. On agreement to pay and $80 fee on the way out, they allow was through on condition that one of their men keeps his eye on us.
It is not long before we pick up another passenger and this time it is someone we had come looking for. Philip Miriori is a Panguna chief and landowner. He is friendly, and suspicious.
PHILIP MIRIORI, PANGUNA CHIEF: Who are you, who are you gentlemen?
REPORTER: We are from SBS television
PHILIP MIRIORI: Spies for
REPORTER: The opposite!
And he is still scarred by the past.
PHILIP MIRIORI: You see - what happened during the crisis. It is something that does not go out from people's minds. We died for it, shed blood for it.
This is the Panguna mine, two kilometres wide and half a kilometre deep, the war ensued here after the mine was closed down. It claimed the lives of 15,000 Bougainvilleans, around one 10th of the population. The
In 2001 in the aftermath of the war many of the islanders launched a class action in the US against Bougainville Copper Ltd's parent company
PETER TAYLOR, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, BOUGAINVILLE COPPER
Peter Taylor is the chief executive of Bougainville Copper Ltd. He told me he has personally investigated that claim and is convinced it is not true.
PETER TAYLOR: I have asked them about this and no-one knows anything about it so I do not know where that came from. It just does not make sense because really the
PHILIP MIRIORI: There was a big mountain there.
REPORTER: In order to get to the copper and the gold they had to….
Panguna chief Philip Miriori is allegedly one of the bastards that
What has not been revealed until now is the powerful support the people of
Obtained exclusively by Dateline, the affidavit written in 2001 when Sir Michael Somare was in opposition. It states in part:
2001 AFFIDAVIT: ‘Because of Rio Tinto;s financial influence in
Sir Michael Somare goes on to say that without Rio Tinto's activity on
2001 AFFIDAVIT: ‘the government would not have been engaged in hostilities or taken military action on the island.’
Once more, Peter Taylor says the allegations are baseless.
PETER TAYLOR: I find it quite surprising he did say those things because he knows they are not true.
REPORTER: Why would he swear on oath that this happened considering he had the knowledge into the government at that time?
PETER TAYLOR: I do not know. I have not asked him.
Jerry Singarok, was the former head of the
JERRY SINGAROK, FORMER CHIEF,
Sam Kauona was in the
BELDEN NAMAH, OPPOSITION LEADER: This is the kind of decision that has affected
BELDEN NAMAH: It is really damaging for the father of a nation to admit that he has supported the crisis on
Wrapped up in the legal claim is a demand for compensation for this. This was the river down which Panguna's copper tailings were deposited. It is more than 20 years since the slurry gates opened for the last time but still there is no life in the river. Only children swim in its pools. And these are their wounds which their parents who pan for gold, blame on the poisoned river.
JESSICA (Translation): So every day this mine pollutes the water, around here there are not many places to wash, so most of the children come here and their skin becomes damaged. We do not want the mine reopened, I think because big men who earn money want the mine to be open because they get the benefits. All of us locals, we don’t like this.
Reconciliation is a government priority and today villagers from across the island have gathered on the outskirts of the capital for a church fundraiser. I have been invited on stage by
JOHN MOMIS: I think it can be negotiated outside of court. In fact, I believe if our people are prepared to allow negotiation with Rio Tinto we would get a much better deal.
But that is against everything that claimants like Philip Miriori have fought long and hard for.
PHILIP MIRIORI: If they don't start the court case, no mining – not just in Panguna but in all
For the first time since the war the Australian chief executive of Bougainville Copper Ltd had, Peter Taylor, visited the island last month. Entertained by the President, he did not go to the mine itself. And with good reason.
ISHMAEL: I was very disappointed. When he steps on the soil at Buka he claims
This former fighter, Ishmael is not someone you would want to cross.
REPORTER: What you think the response would have been if he had come to the Panguna area?
ISHMAEL: We could get the blood and spit all over his face. That’s it, very simple. You have not paid on the land that you are walking on.
Many believe the President Momis is dancing to the
But until its scheduled vote for independence in 2015,
BELDEN NAMAH: If we want to bury what has happened it will be good to look at a new company coming in, I believe. A totally new company will open up the entire negotiation again. The landowners must get the maximum out of the resource. We should be a country that should set an example to other countries that we avert a crisis. The problem was that the government then did not address the landowner problem. Unless we learn from
PETER TAYLOR: I would like to see
PHILIP MIRIORI: We can only come back on our terms and conditions, this is our time we have won the war and the prize is ours. They have to come on our terms and conditions.
YALDA HAKIM: Brian Thomson reporting. The beautiful camerawork from Warwick Ford. As Brian says,
Original Music composed by VICKI HANSEN
26th June 2011