By MALUM NALU
They once were on opposite ends of the spectrum, fighting each other in a bloody, decade-long civil war that took away the lives of thousands of people, but on Thursday, former Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) commander James Tanis and former Resistance Forces commander Sam Akoitai pledged to work together for peace and autonomy on Bougainville.
|Akoitai, Tanis, and constitutional lawyer and Bougainville expert, Anthony Regan, fielding questions at the seminar.-Nationalpics by MALUM NALU|
In moving presentations at a sustainability of Bougainville seminar at the Gateway Hotel, former guerilla fighter turned Phd student Tanis, and former politician Akoitai, said they were both for a better future for Bougainville.
Former Bougainville president Tanis spoke out how the experience of war had changed him, while former Central Bougainville MP and government minister Akoitai, told of the wisdom of late Premier Theodore Miriung, who was assassinated in 1996.
|Vice-minister for inter-government relations Joseph Sungi, Tanis and Akoitai in discussion at the seminar.|
“Sam Akoitai and I come from two extremes,” Tanis, now 48 and studying for a PhD, said.
“I was from the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and Sam was from the Resistance Forces, the two military groups that fought each other.
“It took us a lot of pain, a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of thumping of tables, a lot of deadlocks, a lot of walking away from negotiations, and a lot of deaths to make us come this far.”
Tanis said his story was a story of all Bougainvilleans and all Papua New Guineans.
“I entered the Bougainville Revolutionary Army not knowing about politics, not knowing about what independence was all about, not knowing much about referendum,” he recalled.
“The idea I had as a young fighter was that independence was about guerilla armies overthrowing governments, raising flags, making declarations, and entering the ‘promised land’ after that.
“I listened to my leaders, followed their orders and believed in them, but it took me a lot of painful experiences, a few more years, to learn one thing: independence is not all about guerilla armies destroying governments, taking over territories, and making new declarations.
“As the Bouganville conflict moved on, a lot of us started thinking, ‘there’s a better way for us to move forward’.”
Akoitai told of the wisdom of Miriung, when he told him, ‘Sam, you will never make peace when you talk to friends, you only make peace when you talk to your enemies’.
“That was the opening for me to start talking to (BRA leaders) James Tanis, Ishmael Toroama, Steven Topesi, and many others,” he said.
“That was the turning point for me to go into politics.
“It was not easy for the leaders and people of Bougainville, and also the national government, to arrive at what we now see as the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
“These past experiences should be our lesson to make sure that what Bougainville has gone through should never be repeated.”