Francis Ona at the Panguna mine pit
Francis Ona died in May 2005. He was an inspiration to many, Francis stood up against Rio Tinto, the Australian government and PNG in order to secure a way of life free from exploitation by foreigners. Only by securing the land and environment, could Bougainville regain the harmony and balance that has been its rudder throughout the ages.
One thing that really angered those who conspired against Francis was that he evaded the PNGDF bullets. And as a result, his towering figure remained a major barrier to the recolonisation of Bougainville by Rio Tinto and its collection of political clowns.
When he died, we were TOLD it was natural, we were TOLD that it was malaria. There was no autopsy, and no more questions were asked.
Interesting at the very same time Rio Tinto suddenly reversed its position on mining on Bougainville.
In 2004 its subsidiary BCL said ‘company policy is still to ultimate divest the Bougainville assets’. An explanation was given on its website:
‘There is no indication from landowners or Bougainville leaders that mining will be welcome. It must also be assumed that mine site assets continue to deteriorate with time and therefore the cost of a restart increases. Although some assets like the port, access road and pre-stripped ore are all positives, any potential developer seeking funding to restart the project is faced with the additional issues of PNG country risk and the long period of civil disturbance originating in the violent closure of the mine’.
Then in February 2005 several months before Ona’s death, BCL’s Chairman said in his annual statement:
‘I have spoken to a number of Bougainville landowners who have expressed an interest in allowing exploration on their land. Gold is continuing to be recovered from Bougainville. Based on exploration that took place prior to the moratorium and an airborne survey carried out by the German Government in 1985, there is good prospectivity in a number of areas of Bougainville. Although the company has stated publicly it does not rate highly its prospects of mining at Panguna that is not to say it would not consider an exploration proposal for its licence areas’.
The door was suddenly opened – and its not hard to guess who these ‘landowners’ were, the very same ‘landowners’, who Francis Ona deposed in 1987 through an election, and the very same ones who now head the illegitimate umbrella landowners association.
Then in May 2005, Francis Ona suddenly died. At the time, two mysterious visitors arrived in the mine area, they were suspected of being South Africans. This put people on edge, after all the mercenary outfit, Sandline-Executive Outcomes, who had been contracted in 1997 to blast Bougainville into the stone-age included many ex South African special forces who had previously been used to enforce brutal apartheid policies.
Sandline-Executive Outcomes also have links with Rio Tinto (RTZ) according to one newspaper report published in 1997,
‘One of RTZ’s newest partners is the “ugly Canadian” Robert Friedland. Friedland is Rio Tinto’s junior partner in the Lihir gold mine in PNG. Executive Outcomes, the apartheid-linked mercenary force that was contracted by the PNG government to invade Bougainville and reopen the Panguna mine, is largely controlled by a Friedland company, according to Roger Moody, writing in Multinational Monitor’.
Was he executed by mercenary thugs? We dont know. People on the ground say yes.
So what happened after Ona’s death. Miraculously BCL went from dis-investing in Bougainville, to heralding the reopening of the mine AND its expansion. This is what the Chairman of BCL said in February 2006.
‘In anticipation of the exploration moratorium being lifted and encouragement from both the National and Autonomous Governments the company has commissioned a report on possible exploration targets within its licence areas’.
He goes on to claim:
‘PNG, Bougainville and the company are well placed to take advantage of this upturn in the resource sector. They need to work together now to develop a strategy that is mutually beneficial. BCL will be doing what it can to ensure the opportunities are not missed’.
Perhaps this is all just coincidence, a very lucrative and fortunate one for Rio Tinto. But many on the ground believe he was killed by assassins.
And the fear of violence continues as outspoken critics of the mining company, face a barrage of death threats.
Recolonisation is rarely a bloodless affair, the question is will Rio Tinto’s proposed return be bathed again in blood, and I include in that Francis Ona’s?