Magdalene Toroansi of the Women's Ministry of Bougainville was fired from her Cabinet post more than a week ago, when she opposed the reopening of the Panguna mine. The Panguna mine had been the site of the 1989 – 2002 civil war between Bouganville separatist rebels, on the one hand, and Australia-backed Papua New Guinea defense forces, on the other hand. More than a decade ago, Bougainville communities opposed the Australian mining concession, Rio Tinto at the mine. The ensuing tensions led to the loss of nearly 20,000 civilians and countless incidents of rape and other human rights violations.
As though in a change of fortune, the Panguna mine has been reopened recently by Joseph Kabui, president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government and former separatist leader, sans any consultation with women landowners. “Women own the land in Bougainville. They own the land on which the Panguna mine is situated. For too long, men have negotiated and made agreements about the land without our input and permission,” asserted Helen Hakena, executive director of the women's collective, Leitana Nehan in Bougainville.
“Bougainvillean women and men have learned lessons from this war experience. We have learned that the government must consult the people before signing contracts with foreign companies who stand to make massive profits from our rich land,” she added.
Kabui favoured the prospective Canadian mining company, Invincible, in exploiting the Panguna mine. Aside from the lack of consultation with the landowners and communities, who continue to suffer from toxic waste left by Rio Tinto's mine tailings in the rivers, Kabui also failed to table the issue at the parliament.
Leitana Nehan and other women and civil society groups have launched a campaign, calling for the reinstatement of Toroansi and the cancellation of any agreement with Invincible.
[Ed. Note: Kabui died on 7 June 2008, just a few days after Toroansi's dismissal. The campaign continues.]