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Francis Ona

Francis Ona (c. 1953 - July 24, 2005) was a Bougainville secessionist leader who led an uprising against the Government of Papua New Guinea motivated at least initially by his concerns over the operation of the Panguna mine by Bougainville Copper, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Group. He proclaimed himself "King of Bougainville" in May 2005.

Secessionist Leader

Ona was, in one stage of his life, employed by Bougainville Copper at the mine but he was increasingly critical of its impact on the environment and what he claimed was the low level of royalties paid the landowners. From the mid 1980's, he and others challenged the leadership of the Panguna Landowners Association (PLA) claiming that they were not representing the interests of all of the traditional landowners.

By early 1988, Ona and his associates including his cousin Peputua Serero had formed the New PLA supported by both mineworkers and the traditional opponents of the Panguna mine Damien Dameng's Me'ekamui Pontuku Onoring. The New PLA made a number of claims including monetary compensation for the impacts of the mine, a 50 per cent share of mine revenue to the landholders and a transfer of ownership to Bougainville. The PNG Government set up an independent inquiry which dismissed the claims about the environmental impact but was critical of other parts of the mine's operation. In response, Ona established the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) which conducted numerous acts of sabotage against the mine including the destruction of the mine's power supply leading to the mine's closure in May 1989. Ona rejected an initial compromise deal by Bougainville Copper and the Government.

Ona became the acknowledged leader of the BRA after the death of Serero in 1989 with Sam Kauona, a former soldier in the army leading military operations. The Papua New Guinea Government sent in the police and then the army under Jerry Singirok to quell the uprising but they were unable to do so. The island was placed under a State of Emergency under the control of the PNG Police Commissioner while there were increased complaints about human rights abuses by PNG forces which initially strengthened support for the BRA.

In January 1990, Bougainville Copper announced that they were placing the mine in mothballs. The PNG Government announced that they would withdraw troops and for international observers to verify the disarmament of the BRA. The police fled fearing for their lives in the absence of the army while there was an attempted coup in Port Moresby over the deal.

In response to a blockade imposed by the PNG Government later in 1990, Ona declared himself to be the head of the Bougainville Interim Government declaring independence for the island. The island then descended into anarchy with several armed factions seeking power with the PNG Government supporting the militias. The BRA fell out with Joseph Kabui, the Premier of Bougainville, who had previously been a supporter.

During Prime Minister Paias Wingti's term, the PNG Government renewed military efforts with troops capturing Arawa, the provincial capital in 1993 and recapturing the Panguna mine. Sir Julius Chan, Wingti's successor tried to broker a deal but neither Ona and the BRA nor Kabui would sign a deal. Frustrated, Chan ordered a full-scale invasion in 1996 but neither Australia nor New Zealand would support it. Chan then hired Sandline International mercenaries leading to the military threatening to arrest them on their arrival and the resignation of Chan to forestall a coup.

Bougainville ceasefire

A ceasefire was arranged later in 1997 between new Prime Minister Bill Skate and Joseph Kabui with a multinational Peace Monitoring Group commencing operations on the island. The Bougainville conflict is estimated to have cost between 10,000 and 15,000 lives mainly due to disease and starvation. A tribal reconciliation process started in 2000 and appears to have been successful. The PNG government promised in 2001 to hold a referendum on independence within the next ten to fifteen years.

Ona was never captured and refused to participate in the process. His forces still controlled a quarter of the island.

In May 2005, Ona disrupted provincial elections which he opposed to declare himself as "King of Bougainville" or Mekamui. He also sanctioned the establishment of a Central Bank run by Noah Musingku described by Australia's ABC TV Foreign Correspondent as a king of financial scams who established a pyramid scheme called U-Vistract. Both Joseph Kabui and Sam Kauona stated that Ona was being used by Musingku and his outsiders.

Ona died on 24 July 2005 of malaria in his village.

See also


  1. This ABC Radio Australia The World Today report () states that he was 52 at the time of his death and that he died on Sunday July 24, 2005.


Further reading

  • Robert Young Pelton, Hunter Hammer and Heaven, Journeys to Three Worlds Gone Mad. ISBN 1-58574-416-6
  • Roderic Alley, "Ethnosecession in Papua New Guinea: The Bougainville Case," in Rajat Ganguly and Ian MacDuff, ed.s, Ethnic Conflict and Secessionism in South Asia and Southeast Asia: Causes, Dynamics, Solutions. 2003. New Delhi, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. ISBN 81-7829-202-5, ISBN 0-7619-9604-4.
  • Karen Ballentine and Jake Sherman, ed.s, 2003. The Political Economy of Armed Conflict: Beyond Greed & Grievance. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 1-58826-172-7.
  • Brij V Lal and Kate Fortune, ed.s, 1999. The Pacific Islands: an Encyclopedia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-2265-X. (contains a timeline of the Bougainville secession movement)
  • Malama Meleisea. 2004. Cambridge History of the Pacific Islands. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00354-7.

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