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Meekamui Rejects State Funeral For Ona

Meekamui Rejects State Funeral For Ona

By Clifford Faiparik

BUKA (The National Online/Pacific Media Watch): Meekamui leader Francis Ona's funeral will be held at Guava village in Panguna and only ordinary Bougainvilleans will be allowed to attend, Kieta District Manager Otto Noruka said yesterday.

He said all Bougainville leaders and the media would be barred from the funeral which might be held tomorrow.

"Everyone travelling up to Guava to attend it will be screened at the Morgan junction roadblock before proceeding up there," he said.

Noruka, who was speaking to The National from Arawa, said all Bougainville Autonomous Government leaders, including President Joseph Kabui, Administrator Peter Tsiamalili and other Bougainville National MPs would not be welcome.

"The ban also applies to foreign and local journalists," he said.

Noruka said Ona's followers did not want the state funeral planned by the Bougainville Autonomous Government.

He said Ona's immediate family was agreeable to the state funeral but not the Meekamui's House of Lords.

He said the government had planned to hold ceremonies in Buka and Arawa to give the people an opportunity to pay their last respects.

"We have been negotiating with his followers since Monday," he said.

"Our last hope was shattered when our final negotiating team returned from Guava today telling us that his followers still insisted on their original stand.

"It is unfortunate but this what is his people want.

"However, memorial services may be held in Buka and Arawa," he said.

The National obtained a copy of a letter dated July 24 which said that visitors, politicians, Independence Party supporters, journalists and anyone who was not a citizen of Meekamui Island would not be allowed to enter Guava village.

It continued: "We regret to inform you that it is the wishes of the Royal family of King Francis that the funeral ceremony and the events leading up to the ceremonies in the following days are to be conducted in privacy.

"Anyone wishing to deliver condolences is to kindly leave them at the Morgan checkpoint for further courier to Guava village with the appreciation of the family."

BCL downplays prompt return

PORT MORESBY: The company that abandoned the giant Panguna mine at the centre of Bougainville's long and bloody civil war cannot see it reopening anytime soon despite the death of rebel leader Francis Ona.

Ona, 52, died in his sleep at his jungle hideout near Panguna on Sunday after a short illness.

Yesterday, Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL) chairman Peter Taylor doubted Ona's death would make any immediate difference to the prospects of restarting mining.

The Australian copper and gold mining venture - a subsidiary of the global giant

Rio Tinto - employed thousands and provided a big chunk of the Papua New Guinea government's income after independence in 1975.

But in 1989 Ona and his followers launched hostilities on the island fuelled by landowner anger over benefits from the mine and the environmental damage it was causing.

The conflict dragged on into the 1990s and claimed more than 10,000 lives.

For 16 years Ona stayed in his mountain retreat near the mine, only recently emerging to stage public rallies claiming Bougainville was already independent.

He also said the mine would not reopen until Bougainville's independence was established and he and his followers agreed.

But Taylor said there were many other issues over the mine to be dealt with other than the problems Ona presented.

BCL had yet to talk to Bougainville's new autonomous government, the PNG government and local landowners, he said.

The autonomous government under President Joseph Kabui wants a resumption of mineral exploration and has asked the PNG government to lift the current moratorium and review the Bougainville Copper Agreement Act of 1967.

But Kabui has said any return to mining would follow a plebiscite and rather than reopen Panguna, other options could be pursued such as helping landowners collect gold on the mine's tailings.

PNG's government has a minority stake in BCL. Mining Minister Sam Akoitai has said the reopening of the Panguna mine was a sensitive issue and it would remain closed for an indefinite period.

Taylor said the move to review the Bougainville Copper Agreement was welcome and would allow all parties to bring their issues to the table and discuss a possible return to mining at Panguna.

"We can never rule that out when we have an ore body and a mine life of 15 years," he said.

But feasibility studies were expensive and BCL would not undertake such exercises unless the parties involved had approved a return to mining, Taylor said.

"These things won't happen overnight, it's a big operation."

Commenting on yesterday's BCL share jump of 17 per cent to 82 cents following news of Ona's death, Taylor said the market was bullish anyway and bigger gains had been made on other days.

At BCL's annual general meeting in May, Taylor said it might not be a case of returning to Panguna to mine but of pursuing the company's seven existing exploration licences for the island.

BCL shares rose another 19 per cent yesterday, gaining 15.5 cents to 97.5 cents.- AAP.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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