Peace Initiative in Papua New Guinea

by Frieda Kana, Wantok Newspaper(Papua New Guinea)



Conflicts and War divides and destroys peaceful communities in traditional villages and settlements and towns in the world. Living in peace and tranquility is a natural desire of man since the beginning of time.  Even in the bible days Israeli kings starting with King Saul and King David there were wars over land ownership, over properties etc. and where there are conflicts and wars for many months and years there are times when the kings send peace offering or ask for allegiance and peace treaty between their country and other kings that are in conflict with them. Thus, they try to find peace and safety for their people and themselves.

The Peace Initiative initiated in South Korea is commendable in trying to bring conflicting nations and groups together but through promotion of non-violence ways and means to solve problems and not by war and weapons or weapons of mass destructions.

In Papua New Guinea we have had our share of conflicts and wars which are minimum in world standard but major in our own standard.  This country has 800 or more ethnic societies who have their own language and cultures but now standing together as one nation united under God and governed by the Westminster system of democracy. Consequently, the ethnic groups have conflicts over domestic animals such as pigs, dogs, subsistent farming land, mining lands, lands on which government and church organisations establish administrative centres. Claiming monetary and in kind compensations for damages incurred or for deaths of people through conflicts is a norm in many societies of Papua New Guinea. On many occasions development activities including school programmes, health facilities, school facilities, transportation and access to towns and cities and to civilisation is hampered or blocked off due to conflicts and compensation claims.

One major civil war that took place in the country was the Bougainville Crisis which was a civil war between the indigenous people of North Solomon province and the government of Papua New Guinea in the late 1980s leading onto the late 1990s. There was a lot of bloodshed and it caused the people in the communities to turn against each other.  There was mistrust everywhere, where people of one community, families were divided, like what the bible says, ‘father against sons, mother in-law against daughter in-law’ for example.

The province which is an island on it’s own separated from the main island of New Guinea was torn apart with all services destroyed including church buildings. Papua New Guinea is known as a Christian country but during those times, even the missionaries and clergy were not trusted and they became the victims of both the PNG Defence Force as well as the locally established “Bougainville Revolutionary Army“, or BRA as it was commonly known.  The cause of the conflict started from a giant copper mine which was owned by an international giant mining company, CRA. The mine was the Panguna Copper Mine which dug up an open pit mine and took away local people’s livelihood but both the government and company failed to improve the standard of living of the local people as well as the rest of the island province. It instead created disparity and unbalance distribution of goods and services which very little evidence of improved infrastructure and livelihood.

With a little influence from outside the people took up arms (guns) and homemade bombs (petrol bombs). It took away education opportunities from the children and the result is now a whole generation of people who did not have an opportunity of developing their full potential in terms of education.

There is a lot to say about this situation as well as other conflicts and civil conflicts involving weapons and arms causing lives and destruction to valuable properties not only those of financial value but also of ancestral and cultural values.

However, despite all these doom and gloomy situations that occur, I am proud to say that our nation with its indigenous Melanesian people have systems of peace building which are traditional so together with the contemporary principles of peace building brought in by the Christian belief and the Western practices of conflict resolutions many of these conflicts are resolved in time.

For instance, in the case of the Bougainville Crisis or Revolution the women were in the forefront to bring peace among the BRA soldiers and the Resistance Force (pro-government) and the rest of PNG. But prior to the women taking the lead in bringing peace, there was a divide that happened within the PNG Defence Force in which one of the Brigadier General (PNGDF Commander) decided against the then government’s decision to bring the Sandline Force from the UK to help the PNGDF to wipe out the Revolutionary Army in the province of North Solomon, now Autonomous Region of Bougainville. The Army commander went on air and protested against the engagement of this special force because of their reputation of brutality when it comes to combating armed conflicts in other parts of the world. Thus, the action of this one person saved a nasty blood shed of innocent people which saw the start of the journey to peace in that war torn island. However, as a result the commander himself and a whole lot of platoon leaders and soldiers were apprehended and charged by military law for treason.

Looking back to the initiative by the women of Bougainville to bring peace among their people, it was not an easy task but they used their status as the owners of the land, as they are a matrilineal society, they called conflicting and warring factions to come together on neutral grounds to say sorry and make peace. The process concluded with ‘guns surrender ceremonies’ in the witness of the United Nations, New Zealand and Australia Government and NGO workers. 

An example of such peace initiatives in our country done by people in another province through the support of Australia Government is contained in the following story from the Australia High Commission in Papua New Guinea below.

This initiative was supported by the Australian government through the Justice Services and Stability for Development Program.  

‘More than 70 young women and men in Oro Province have surrendered homemade guns, knives, ammunition, drugs and home brewing equipment to the police following a community-driven crime prevention initiative.

People at risk of becoming involved in crimes including armed robbery, drug trafficking, burglary and petty theft were among the 72 who handed in 25 weapons including homemade guns as well as knives, significant quantities of drugs and home brewing gear in a series of surrender ceremonies within Popondetta recently. The weapons, drugs and equipment were collected by police for disposal and destruction.

The community-initiated surrender ceremonies were held at the Simbu, Niugini, and Marimari Street settlements in Popondetta and the Soputa settlement in Oro Bay. The ceremonies followed work to promote drug and alcohol awareness and strengthen partnerships and networks within the local law and justice sector and in the broader community.

Pastor Silas Eriba, a volunteer juvenile justice worker involved in the ceremonies, said the ceremonies were a sign of the success of local initiatives to combat crime and promote safer communities.

“Since we began raising awareness on law and justice issues with the support of the JSS4D [Justice Services and Stability for Development] we are seeing changes within the communities,” Pastor Eriba commented.

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