Peace and a brighter future

Following 10 years of violent civil unrest in Bougainville, in which tens of thousands of lives were lost and traditional life on the island of Bougainville was destroyed, one community in central Bougainville has brought together past enemies to work to mend relationships and to rebuild their community.

Celebrations marking the establishment of Oxfam's partner, Osi Tanata, as an independent non-government organisation.

Oxfam began working in Bougainville in 1998 with a series of income-generating projects. These were operating in a very difficult environment following the conflict, yet for many participants the projects had a positive impact as a way to build trust.

Project activities such as cooking, gardening, poultry farming and livestock rearing have encouraged people to work together. Initiatives such as the Tui Tui Women's Poultry Project have helped hundreds of families. The community now has a source of income through the sale of chicks and eggs, and a source of nutrition through the meat and eggs.

Bringing enemies together
More importantly, these activities have increased goodwill, trust and cooperation within the project communities and brought together people who were previously on opposing sides of the conflict. Workshops have enabled former enemies, sometimes from within the same family, to sit down together for the first time in 10 years to share ideas and plan for reconciliation and a peaceful future.

Most of the programme staff are themselves Bougainvillians who lived through the conflict and therefore know their own problems best. They’ve been traumatised by the conflict, missed out on up to 10 years of education, and have little experience of formal employment. Yet with the support of Oxfam they have found a solution as a community by bringing people together and taking action.

Over the years, local Oxfam staff in Bougainville developed a dynamic and well-respected organisation that is now a fully independent, non-governmental organisation – Osi Tanata, ‘Custodian of the Land’. In July 2004, Osi Tanata officially took responsibility for the programme.

Osi Tanata is playing a vital role in the ongoing development of Bougainville by structuring projects to suit the ever-changing needs of the communities and through advocating everyone’s right to a decent education and health care. They are now reaching 49 communities. Their trainers are also holding workshops in the PNG Highlands, where conflict is escalating. Oxfam is applying the lessons learnt through our Bougainville programme to other parts of the Pacific, in particular the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Background: Conflict in Bougainville

Copper mining began in Bougainville in 1972, providing a major source of income for the government of Papua New Guinea following independence in 1975.

The Panguna mining operation was criticised for sharing few of the benefits with the province. And although it created many jobs, it also caused major environmental and social damage.

Dissatisfaction and anger over the mining operation boiled over into armed revolt and escalated into a civil war that lasted from 1989 to 1998. Tens of thousands of lives were lost and traditional life on the island was destroyed. Whole communities were displaced and traumatised.

In 1997 the New Zealand government succeeded in facilitating a peace conference of all Bougainville leaders that led to the Burnham Declaration of Ceasefire. This in turn led to further agreements, which extended the truce and involved ex-combatants in the peace process.

The Bougainville Peace Agreement was eventually signed on 30 August, 2001. Between December 1997 and June 2003 a multinational unarmed Peace Monitoring Group operated in Bougainville.

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