Bougainville's freedom fighter president: 'We will push hard for independence'

Thelonia Roka Matbob (pictured) has been appointed Minister of Education in the new Bougainville government.

Ishmael Toroama, former freedom fighter and commander of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), has been elected as the new President of Bougainville. Toroama is highly respected by the people of Bougainville, and having won the election by a massive landslide, is considered the ideal person to fulfill Bougainville’s quest for Independence.

Toroama told ABC radio’s Pacific Beat how honoured he was to be elected as the new President of Bougainville: "We have to fulfill the dreams and the vision of why we fought.

"On my side, we will push hard for independence, because that is the key issue on Bougainville."

In the war on Bougainville (1988–98) up to 20,000 people died. Dissent had been growing, when landowners were forced to accept an agreement with Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) a subsidiary of Rio Tinto (previously CRA) to dig up their land.

Rio Tinto made mega bucks from the copper and gold at the Panguna mine, without any regard for the environment or the people of Bougainville. The landowners had no comprehension of the environmental destruction, degradation and pollution the mining company would cause to the land, rivers, sea and air.

After 16 years (1972–1988) of trying to negotiate with the company ‒ and the Papua New Guinea government that owned shares in it ‒ for stricter environmental controls and better terms within the mining agreement, the people of Bougainville mobilised. The landowners used explosives to blow up the pylons carrying electric supply lines to the Panguna mine from the coast. The mine was shut down in November 1988 and remains shut to this day.

The BRA and the people of Bougainville are the first Indigenous peoples to shut down one of the biggest mines owned by one of the biggest mining companies on this planet. Sadly, the PNG government, Rio Tinto and BCL retaliated by sending in the PNG Defence Forces, supported by Australia and Australian tax-payer dollars.

The PNG government, Rio Tinto and BCL turned the island of Bougainville into a sea of blood. They imposed a military blockade on Bougainville to keep Rio Tinto and BCL’s filth from being exposed. They used Australian helicopters decked out as gunships to strafe villages, and navy boats supplied by Australia to keep journalists, human rights workers and medical teams out.

But the filth of Rio Tinto and BCL has been exposed. The deaths of up to 20,000 Bougainville people caused by the PNG government, Rio Tinto and BCL, and the Sandline International hired mercenaries, which were stopped in March 1997, shows the disgusting, greedy, racist behaviour of Rio Tinto and BCL. They are corporate thugs that were stopped thanks to the victory of the BRA.

Bougainville has waited a very long time for her independence, which was again expressed last year in the referendum vote, where 97.7% of the Bougainville people voted for independence.

Toroama and his new cabinet plan to begin discussions with the PNG government on the non-binding independence referendum result in the near future. The referendum result must be ratified by the PNG parliament.

Toroama outlined the following six-point strategy in his inauguration speech:

1. Political control of our destiny;
2. Economic growth and control;
3. Administrative control;
4. Mobilising private sector and civil society;
5. Long term vision and planning; and
6. International relations.

Toroama’s cabinet includes a mix of the old and the new, as well as, for the first time since the inception of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), two women.

Theonila Roka Matbob has been appointed as Minister for Education, and Yolande Geraldine Paul has been appointed as Minister for Primary Industries and Marine Resources.

Toroama said he made this decision to make certain there was recognition of the dynamic role women play in Bougainville. He was positive the two women leaders would perform exceptionally well in their ministerial roles.

Congratulations to the new president, his government and the people of Bougainville.

Cry Freedom Bougainville.

[Vikki John is a member of the Bougainville Freedom Movement in Australia.]

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