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By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Buka, Bougainville
As the people of Bougainville contemplate their future relationship with Papua New Guinea through the referendum, a small group of families who call themselves the Voices of Silent Bougainville are reviving their claims of compensation for losses suffered at the height of the tension, 30 years ago.
Led by Henny Kuijpers, the son of a Dutch businessman and mother from Buin in Southern Bougainville, the group wants both the Autonomous Government of Bougainville and the Papua New Guinea Government to address their 30 year old war reparation claim.
“My family was a victim of the Bougainville crisis. My father was beaten up by the PNG Defence force during their operations in 1989 because he was falsely accused of aiding the rebels based on reports from people who were probably jealous of my family’s business.
“We had a family business in Kieta, at Makati point. We used to own a wholesale business, Makossi Trading and a retail shop. He was beaten up by the soldiers in 1989 at the height of the crisis and died two years later.
Kuijpers feels betrayed by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the PNG governments for not living up to the requirements of the Peace Agreement – which outlines that before the referendum, the governments should have policies in place to address human rights issues.
“They did not address claims of loss of lives and properties. In the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) it says before referendum, they have to address good governance and human right. Section 137 of the Bougainville Constitution also requires the government to formulate a policy to deal with crisis related issues. But they never did that.
Kuijper’s family reparation claim was estimated at K6 million after the crisis.
“For the loss of my father, we couldn’t calculate the amount. May be if we go to a trial, the tribunal can decide how to compensate my father.
Kuijpers said the Voice of the Silent Bougainville was revived in October last year to lobby and remind both the governments of their ‘unfinished’ responsibility in the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
“There is no last minute for human rights abuses. We feel our leaders have failed us.”
“Government is going into referendum without fulfilling all the commitments in the Peace Agreement and the Constitution, Kuijpers claims.
The Hanahan businessman said despite being hard done by government, he’s encouraging his family to vote in the referendum.
“I am taking part in the hope that the Melanesian Way will prevail and we will still be compensated – either in a greater autonomy or through independence.
“In Bougainville – when you face a conflict with somebody and there are deaths and destruction, the only way to end it is to compensate the losses. If you don’t compensate, it is not fully resolved and it will come back again.
“A lot of victims are very quiet because they don’t know their legal rights on what was done to them. There is nothing wrong with the BPA, it’s a win-win situation to achieve peace but they forgot the victims. They only addressed the issues for combatants and gave them amnesty and freedom. When government amended the constitution to give them freedom and amnesty, they should have also looked at the law to compensate the victims, said Kuijpers.
The group numbering 20 families, is using Facebook to reach out to other silent Bougainvilleans who were also victims of the war.
“Most are very quiet and some are scared about dealing directly with the very people who were committing these atrocities. The government is treating these people like royalties now and not one single help to the victims
The United Nations has recently come into document their cases and provide support to the group.
“We have sat with the UN and they were supposed to facilitate some dialogue with the current govt – AB and PNG. Since then they haven’t come back to us on when we will meet. They even admitted they didn’t have anyone looking into human rights abuses in Bougainville but after our meeting they appointed someone to look after human rights cases and facilitate dialogue.
Kuijpers who was only 16 years old when his father was beaten up by both PNG forces and the rebels said it’s time to stand up and call out government on their responsibility under the peace agreement.
“This was an issue swept under the carpet at the expense of peace. After they achieved peace, and made peace with the combatants, they didn’t come back to us to compensate our loss. It’s a very big issue and I don’t think it will be solved easily now and into the near future but we as a group, we will keep on. If we don’t talk about it, people will forget about it.
“I won’t stop and I am not scared. We are not young anymore. It’s time we do something. My late mother died in an air crash in Goroka, 10 years after my dad was killed, without getting justice. So I need to this for my family and for others who lost their loved ones and properties at the hands of the rebels and government forces. We are not alone. There are many of us, said Kuijpers who is in his mid-40’s and has four daughters.
Aspiring ABG government presidential candidate, Fidelis Semoso agrees the new government after the referendum must have a strategy in place to deal with the unfinished business of the Bougainville peace accord.
“Those issues were not swept under the carpet, they were merely parts of the compromise that we had to take come this far. Most of these issues will still need to be dealt with because they were the causes of the conflict. It’s important that they become part of the negotiations or become one of the core business of the new government.
“Whatever we do in the negotiations going forward after the referendum, peace must be the priority, peace must prevail. We must not compromise peace for the sake of political and socio economic development.
Semoso told PACNEWS in Buka - when both government agree to the final structure that reflects the desire of the people, “those unfinished business must become parts of the core business of the new government.”
Papua New Guinea’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Max Rai told NBC News the ABG Government must take the lead in dealing with outstanding issues like compensation for victims of the crisis.
“There are pockets of people who may have some dissatisfaction, but as far as the PNG Government is concerned, we want to make sure that there’s peace and stability on Bougainville and I think we have done that through the agreement.
“The ABG itself must go out and address the issues which pockets of people who are concerned. The PNG Government is not going to come down and address all of that. You cannot just leave everything to the government. We need to consult and ABG needs to take a lead on thus type of local issues, said Ambassador Rai.
Makereta Komai’s coverage of the Bougainville Referendum was made possible with funding support from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
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