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Reconciliation in Bougainville crucial before referendum: Powi

Bougainvilleans want reconciliation to take place before the referendum so they can find peace and comfort as they decide on their future.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Bougainville Referendum William Powi says the healing process in Bougainville, just like any war-torn place, starts with reconciliation.

He added that people are social beings and it is critical that mending social relations can only start
with reconciliation.

“The process marks the passing of the old phase and introduces the new phase. However, it is not always an easy step to take in protracted conflicts. People live on with scars of losing so much, including loved ones. Even if some degree of reconciliations has been conducted in places that have experienced severe fighting, finding peace to forgive and move on is never easy. But the fact, however, is that there are a few peaceful alternatives to reconciliation. Failure to reconcile can result in renewed violence,” Powi said.

He said his committee was informed of the need for reconciliation before the referendum but realistically though, and without an infusion of significant resources, there could be little time left to conduct a thorough reconciliation process throughout the AROB before the referendum.

“The challenges that confront Bougainville and PNG are perhaps many relating to a referendum. First, there are many factions in the Bougainville problem, and especially among Bougainvilleans. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) was opposed not only by PNG government and PNG Defence, but also by the Bougainville Resistance Fighters (BRF). The BRA in the later stages of the conflict splintered resulting in groups like Me’ekamui. Bougainville families were split and many relationships were broken or strained with destructions and atrocities committed on many fronts. Likewise, the PNGDF’s activity caused problems. Therefore, it was best for reconciliation to take place on multiple sides,” Powi said.

Powi said the second issue is how to start the reconciliation process. He added that reconciliation in most instances need arbiters, and particularly those seen to be neutral to play the go-between role. In bigger reconciliations processes, resources are needed to bring people together, facilitate exchange compensations or to pay the arbiters.

He said, “At the moment, it appears that there are limited resources for such activities.”

Meanwhile, a mass reconciliation which paves way for Torokina to be “friends” again among themselves and the rest of Bougainville was completed this week with high powered weapons surrendered.

South Bougainville MP Timothy Masiu and local Torokina ABG MP Steven Suako were there to witness with more than 2000 people of the Torokina district as former BRA, Resistance and also Me’ekamui Defence Force made peace again after 20 years of not seeing eye to eye.

Masiu said this was the first moving mass reconciliation he attended as the local MP as 200 cases of killings, murders, wounding and accusations were struck out by those involved in making peace.

The MP said there is now a major plan for a massive reconciliation to take place between the PNGDF, RPNGC and CS as well.

There was a mass reconciliation in Torokina between the former BRA, Resistance and also Me’ekamui Defence Force. Interestigly household Me’ekamui name Moses Pipiro left Panguna to attend the ceremony in Torokina.

“These three groups reconciled and surrendered their arms which include three high powered guns, broke bows and arrows as a sign of peace, exchange of traditional shell money and chewed betelnut as sign of friendship and togetherness.

The most important thing is they hugged each other and embraced each other and said sorry in front of the community for the hardship, struggle and pain they caused to their loved ones and they vowed not to engage in any such activities again and to stand together as one and make sure they help the process of peace and referendum,” Masiu said. 

“Women cried, sang and men shook hands and then all went into all the cases, the high profile, middle and low cases – altogether about more than 200 cases and completed all, mainly killings, woundings, accusations and many others that caused harm. “There are reconciliation ceremonies happening everywhere.

We will eventually have a major national reconciliation with the people of PNG, specifically the PNGDF, RPNGC and CS as well. “I am so pleased and proud as that was the first ever moving reconciliation ceremony I attended, you could feel it, you could see that these people were genuinely saying sorry and embracing each other and that they were sorry about the wrongs they did,” he said.

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