‘Pressure Groups’ in Southwest Bougainville

The Mungkas leaders had close links with the Bana Pressure Group, the Siwai Pressure Group and similar, though less well organised, groups from the Buin area. Bana and Siwai were relatively densely populated areas, with intensive cultivation of cash crops and associated land shortages, close to the mine, and hence experiencing some of its impacts. Little has ever been written about these groups and their roles in the conflict. Francis Ona received strong support from them, both before and after the conflict started.

These groups were mostly led by older men. Some held land adjacent to the tailings lease, receiving little or no compensation despite the impacts, leading to particular resentment of BCL. They were also concerned about the broader problem of environmental degradation, the lack of employment and business opportunities with the mine, and the number of non-Bougainvilleans now settling on their land or running small businesses nearby. Pressure group leaders thought that independence was the most realistic way of getting a fairer deal from BCL. They rejected the earlier generation of ‘nationalist’ Bougainville leadership that had abandoned the secessionist cause in 1976. Their position was also a reaction to PNG’s failure to agree to 1981 NSPG proposals for changing the BCA.

As Bana Pressure Group chairman from mid-1988, James Singko expressed its position in ever more radical terms. From late 1988, he assisted Ona with funds raised from the sale of bananas and other crops from his plantation. He accompanied Ona into the bush in late 1988, bringing young men from his group, and soon becoming Ona’s deputy in the BRA. He is also regarded as being the strongest proponent of secession, and central to that cause being agreed as a core goal of the rebellion at a major meeting at Sipuru, in central Bougainville, in late February 1989. In later tensions with Ona over the direction of the rebellion, Singko claimed the right to negotiate with the PNG Government on the issue since he was the sponsor of that particular aspect of their agenda.

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